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THOUGHTS ON MUSIC
There material on Rachmaninoff, Schumann, Korngold and Britten in the Chapt. entitled, "Essay".
thots occur to me that i can't find a place fore, e.g. obvious influence of Schubert's "Rosamunde" (is it the intro) on Arthur Sullivan?
I can remember three moments when music first possessed me- in the 40's my folks went to one of the Carmel, Calif, Bach festivals- we were in a back balcony- the Brandenburg # 2 where the tumpet takes off? I can remember my brain being brought to attention- as was D H Lawrence's at Taos :
Terraces in Bach-
O more terraces!
Terraces where the trumpets
Keep going higher!!!
Never high enough!!!!
"Donna Nobis Pacem
"Et in terra pax" (see my interview w JSB under Bach chapt. later down the road)
another seminal moment- again I am in my teens or before- my father is driving on the Saw River? Cross County? Xpressway in New York? Connecticut? state? a Mozart piano concerto comes on- which one? the lofty terraces , the descents - it's never left me- but I don't know which one! (I now realise it may have been the slow movement to the Hayden # 11- was he the first to make such devine descents? This one certainly influenced Mozart (have to check dates).
3- the "Auferstehn" last mv't (w chorus) to Mahler's 2nd? - which I have sung- at one point near the beginning where the basses sink to a (is it?) b natural- this whole mov't- composer has been possessed! Imagine Mahler conducting Rachmaninoff's 3rd Piano Concerto in New York? Imagine being there and realising the conjunction? which probably few people did?
Music, pure music, I wish I could express,
tum tee ta ta tum tee fall straight and miss!!- Jimi Hendrix
You can dip into the "Ring" of Wagner's or any of the Cantatas of Bach and you will be in the presence of incomparable genius- you will be standing in the wash of their brains- W compared his composing to a loom on which he was weaving- there is no higher avocation in life to have. You can despise a Wagner or a Chopoin as a person all yhou want- their music redeems them.
I think of my dead father.
All I can come up with?
-My piano- the piano
Pa bot for ma
Which she passed on to me!
(The reblt 1919 Model O Steinway
You did a good thing!!, Pa
Am I into objects?
This piano floats out over the rapids-
The black and white keys of the rapids-
It floats our over the whitecaps
Of the waves
I could go to bed on this instrument, listening
To Ivan Klansky -
Mozarts 20 or
Radu Lupu w Zinman,
Mozart # 19 -
The piano keeps on sailing
The Beethoven Bagatelles-
Glass from sand
Like the old
Del Monte plant
In glass objects
By Chihuly, the
Like that one coast cypress
On the point-
Ez Pound's beard,
And the "Oranges of
And the glintings
Off the water-
dave has to rank- his 9 top composers in order of fabulosity: Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Brahms, Ravel, Mozart. Schumann, Stravinsky- if I was on a desert island-this would b enuff.
The greatest piano sonata?- easily Chopin's # 2 with the funeral
march. The way C varies the mood is incredible. The presto last movement
a good test for any pianist- note how much more coherently Rachmaninoff
plays it than even Horowitz, whose version is itself outstanding. The
critic Tim Page points out that Glenn Goulds recording of it is one of
his worst. I can imagine, for GG did not relate to Chopin or
Rachmaninoff- Page says GG told him that he had about a 70 yr. gap in
his composer appreciation. also- Sam Barber's is very, very good!
in the Dave must make lists department- Dave's greatest operas of the century: are, in the following ranking: 1. "Wozzeck/Lulu, 2. Three Penny Opera/Mahagonny, 3, Salome/Electra, 4, Rosenkavalier/ Frau ohne Schatten, 5, Todstadt/Violanta, 6, Cunning Little Vixen/Jenufa, 7, Peter Grimes/Death in Venice, 8, South Pacific, Oklahoma, etc., (Yes I include these!) 9, Porgy, 10, Pelleas, 11, St. Francis, 12, Life w an Idiot (the George Bush story (just kidding), 13, Francesca de Rimini/Miserly Knight", 15, some opera I've forgotten or am not familiar with. How about Bartok? Barber?
If I had any innate talent- it was for music (of course, don't we all!?). We Macks could proudly point to Uncle Franklin who had mastered the oboe and whose son, my cousin Jack was first chair oboist for the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. In my case, even though I had composed a bit at Oberlin, poetry was essentially the way my music came out.
At a piano recital in 2011, Alexander Korantia did the Beethoven Eroica Vaiations along with the Rachmaninoff (on a theme of Chopin) and I was the only one in the audience to notice that he had improvised himself during some of the Beethoven Variations- he had a question and answer period after the recital and thanked me for noticing. He said this was indicated- altho I had never heard that.
My clearest early memory of inspiring music is of the Bach trumpets, stepping up higher and higher, rung to rung (as B does so often) in the first movement of the Brandenburg 2nd, which I heard from the back of a church at the Carmel Bach Festival back in the forties. I was five. The memory is with me as sharply as the scent of the
The Brandenburg 2 as done by the Freiburg Baroque group- all of them standing- shows how, with the tiniests stokes- the fingers of the tumpeter, the fingers of the harpsichordist- a music can expand INTO THE UNIVERSE! The trumpeter who is the only one seated- and his is the most momentous of lines- still- he still blends in with the oboe- even the recorder- his line is NOT THAT DIFFERENT! This line soars up and upper- it reminds me of the concluding chorus in the B Minor messe and is all I need, really, in the final analysis, in the end. Then, take the #5 which is supposedly a harpsichord concerto? But most of the time- at a rapid pace that Bach probably never heard- the harpsichord blends in- when the cadenza takes place-it becoms a concerto-and at the 16th (32nd?) notes- any one thereafter hearing this piece- as would they said hearing the Goldberg- that music is changed forever- and that this requires inhuman fingers. Then too, Scarlatti requires inhuman fingers! Did these guys ever, EVER hear their pieces played the way our vituosos play them? I doubt it- it was IN THEIR HEADS.
To get back to my earliest memories: Rachmaninoff had just died but Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Korngold were still alive (and living not far down the coast). The poet Robinson Jeffers who lived nearby had written about this landscape of velvet silver fog and spray and dark green cypress peculiar to the area. Later on in my life, when 19, I worked for my Uncle in his landscaping business our of
My motto became a quote (by whom?) that I had incorporated into a poem (was it one of the transcendentalists?) the "Coast Dreamers" about the
Throughout my life, I have been through musical "phases" I went through Schumann and Chopin to Rachmaninoff as I learned to play the piano seriously (the 60's and 70's). From 83 until 96, I turned to voice, singing Bass I then Bass II with the Baltimore Symphony Chorus.
Schumann then my first love- the quirky, dreamy, poetic, literature loving one. His musical portrait of Chopin in "Carnaval" may be the greatest of all piano pieces- such an evocation of C and yet at the same time S- no better biography or tribute- S to C, ever existed. One sees C waltzing by or rather, chatting in the corner or playing the piano, he wasnt robust enough to dance; Schumann recreated him.
An obsessive/compulsive myself, I could identify with Schumann, although I didn't want to end up as he did- creating alphabetical lists of towns on imaginary maps whilst in the asylum, (or Bruckner, another obsessive compulsive, counting cobble stones). The psychiatrist, Kay Jamieson, has written extensively of the link between this kind of madness- depression and manic depression and creativity in a wide range of creative persons- Byron, Chopin among many others. What Schumanns diagnosis today would be? His mental illness didnt happen until late in his life- a peculiar onset? No, Glenn Gould also descended into madnewss at the end of his life.
I got a cd of S's Overtures in the 90's, many of which are ruined by his madness- in the Violin Concerto also: one can definitely hear him losing grip. As one having lost grip myself- depression in -96/'97, these were especially poignant works, and I found them almost as inspiring as the healthy works. They were magnificent, hollow gestures.
Schumann bridged the two worlds of literature and music better than most, he composed and wrote about music well. Berlioz and Rimsky Korsakov are two others.
In the 80's I made side visits (mini-binges) to Rimsky Korsakov and Berg and in the 90's: Mendelssohn, and Durufle. I never tired of Bach. As Forkel said of B: I have always been on a Bach binge. I realized in 2000 that I had gone from a three B's to a three R's- Rimski, Rachmaninoff and Ravel. But I always returned to Bach and started studying his cantatas seriously in 1990's and the twentieth century.
Because I sang bass in the Symphony Chorus, from '83-'96 I had been a participant in great works of music and had sung under the baton of a great conductor: David Zinman, who conducted the orchestra after Commissiona in Baltimore. cut the italicized? This fulfilled my dream of being influential artistically, in a way, although not in the more blatant way of publishing a well received book of poems but in the sense that many radio stations across the country carried the Baltimore Symphony programs with Zinman, and my ego loved to imagine my voice (with the 100 or so others of course) floating out over the Bob? National forest in
Homage to Bach
bread and puppet theatre museum
(I think my editing of this B stuff will prove to b my second phase on this work- it is so inchoate, so messy- from the movement memoirs to the music to the art- I mean- certain segments have been worked over becuase they were presented to an audience- and they r ok- like the political poetry- the music in film, the Rachmaninov essay, the poetry- the rest? God help me)
I can't resist the urge to rank. What is the greatest work of art, over all in music art and literature? You could say in the "B Minor Mass" Bach himself was ranking- he wanted to make a great compilation- a speciman book as Wolf would say- by compiling many of his best movements into it. He enjoyed ranking too.
One great thing about Bach- hes so serious! Who was ever so serious before? Not the Italians maybe Gesualdo? The church music of Palestria? Not Vivaldi. Bach says, music is NOT a joke!! Plus, w Bach, anything can be put- suppose I told you to compose a piecer describing two blind men at the side of the road- what wld yr. response be- (Bach could have done it)- as it so happens, in his version, Jesus walks by- admittedly- that adds a lot (it' in Cantata 23).
Bach wrote so much it's very hard to have heard it all. It's almost all fabulous (not to mention the stuff lost). The only stuff I find a tad boring is some of the fugues in "Art of the Fugue" , some of the chorale preludes in the Clavierubung (one of the few works published in Bs lifetime) and an occasional Cantata aria.
As stated I liked to debate merits of composers in a competitive sort of way and rank them but after listening to a lot of B and never finding it tiring, you had to put Bach first all ways. Once I started getting into his cantatas, finding out how great almost each one is, I threw up my hands. B is clearly best. If I could only save one body of music it would be the cantatas. They are complete in themselves but at the same time birthing chambers for the B minor mass, just as nebulas carry and give birth to stars. Bach wins the prize for "world's GREATEST all around composer" and maybe worlds GREATEST artist.
B competes w R in my brain- of course, B wins hands down- so much more music.
Through the Cantatas with DaveDisclaimer: There are probably choruses by the greatest composer of all times (and those we know little of if nothing) that I have not heard which are equal to the phenomenal ones I have heard (although I am trying to listen to all of Bach's choruses). I have sung the opening chorus to the B Minor Mass with its opening bars, so like the shove one might give a momentous boat starting a momentous journey. I sang the oceanic opening chorus to the Passion according to
I had copied many of the Kalmus editions) (these were piano vocal scores. Later I was able to look at most of the full scores which had been reproduced in the Das Altewerke boxed sets- and they were later available on a cd rom. In December of 2000, I was able to buy 25 boxes of the Das Altewerke records - the cantatas with Harnoncourt and Leonhardt conducting. Thus I now had Cantatas 1 through 140 with scores. (Am now (2002) only missing 160-180, in other words I have the music for all the other Cantatas and am missing scores for 140-200.) It was a great deal that I found on the internet- Car City Records in Detroit- at $7.00 a piece. (The portrait on the front of each of these boxes is, according to Teri Towe, NOT Bach). I had a dream of copying all the opening choruses, or if I ever got enough money, owning all the Cantata scores and all the music on records or cds (at 2000 there were at least seven sets that I knew of- the oldest being the Richter, the Schreier, the Helmut Rilling, the John Eliot Gardiner, the Phillip Herreweghe, the Ton Koopman and the Gustav Leonhardt and Nicholas Harnoncourt. For awhile I liked the Altewerk versions the best, but I started to listen to Helmut Rilling and he converted me. His tempos were brisk and he was not weighted down by the clumsiness of the boys nor some of the old instruments. His version seemed to come closer to B's intentions, whether it was authentic or not. In his book on Bach Studies, Michael Marissen cites Alfed Durr as "the most authentic sudent" of the cantatas and I immediately took umbrage, myself having gone to schooll w the masterful two volume, W.G. Whittaker, The Cantatas of J.S.Bach.
In 2000 the internet has B's works listed in chronological order, allowing me to look at the progress in the cantata compositions. One needs to study and listen to them as they were chronologically composed and see how one might have influenced the next. I sense progress toward the complex. #34, "O Ewiges Feuer" clearly one of B's best- although adapted from a Wedding Cantata, is one of the last composed; the stunning funeral work- 118- "Lebenslicht" is a late work- as if B were writing it for himself. Also there are the Lutheran Masses- which are so masterful and, like the B Minor Mass, take the very best numbers from older cantatas. By studying all the cantatas one gets to see which music B himself liked best, the music he reuses!
I like to think B gets especially inspired by something to do with women- a wedding perhaps, the imprudent virgins of #140- the daughters who are called at the beginning of the St. Matthew Passion. Also I note that B's most important, most moving funeral work- the #118 is a very late composition. I sense that the movement, slow, with oboe, in the Easter Oratorio is also a heart felt funeral offering.
In his masterful, indispensible work on the Cantatas, Whitaker states of Bach's opening Sundays in Leipzig, "We have no record...but did his newly fired enthusiasm receive a sudden damping through cold indifference on the part of his congregation or even rebukes from the proud merchants who ruled the destinies of his church? One can imagine the rueful shaking of heads and the adverse comments of the worshippers: 'If only we had secured Telemann we wouldn't have had to listen to such harsh, involved, inharmonious Hauptmusik'."
And, also Whitaker: "The history of the musical profession is strewn with the wrecks of ardent men shattered, bruised, and crushed by the misunderstanding and pigheaded opposition of ignoramuses in authority, who ought to have been only too grateful for the opportunity to sit at the feet of their temporal servant and learn something about his art. That is the way of the world."
A telling bit in Whitaker: "The reply made to Joachim, who, on meeting a grandson of B who had been in the choir, asked what the cantatas were like under the composer's direction, 'Oh, he cuffed us a lot and they sounded awful', was not surprising." One wonders how a difficult opening chorus like the one in # 80, "Ein feste Burg" would have come out to the congregation. Also, one has B's comment about the worst of the four choirs he had at Leipsig that they were "trash" and were capable at best of carrying a chorale line only. But B, who probably delegated the "trash" choir probably "cuffed" boys in his best choir (more likely that he kicked the "trash" choir-boys!).(D, search the orig. documents for any comment re B's music by a Reverend or ordinary church goer)
Still, he is everywhere surrounded by music (especially at home), complain about its downhill direction as he might. Leipzigers actually had to pay for celebratory compositions (and they tried to get out of it). So it was a constant struggle for B, but every now and then he may have had the thought, imagine what music facilities they have in
One sees that B's contemporaries did not identify with the passion and feeling in his music- not that incredible motoric energy; none of them mention it. His critics find his music "artificial" or over labored and difficult
I am almost glad that so many of B's cantatas have been lost. The ones we have are so overwhelmingly fabulous- there is so much perfection- so much to study. In the same vein, it is good that B's contemporaries could not recognize his greatness- they would have all given up whatever endeavors they were essaying (and that I cannot see who that is living at this time is great because it would discourage me). But if you had realized the enormity of B....of course in part I jest, because I cannot imagine a Handel stopping to write just because he recognized how much greater B is. On the other hand I find it amazing that we have so many of the Cantatas- i.e. they were kept and were NOT lost. I think many of the worlds treasures have been lost.
With the hymn tunes of the time, we admit that Bach had a lot to work with. We perhaps make too much of him as lonely genius when we should see him in the context of his community, where congregations actually sang such fabulous hymns and where other composers than he also wrote many cantatas (Teleman, Buxtehude).
For awhile I thought I might assay an overview of all the cantatas a la Whitaker or Young but realized that the project might just be too big and besides there were some cantatas that weren't as great as others. Better just to reflect on the ones that moved me in as deep a prose as possible. Leave the overviews to the experts- i.e. Whitaker, Young, what's his name w the 3 vol. set? and the writers of the liner notes to the various recordings- Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Teldec series especially.
A rule of thumb w the cantatas: tell me something I dont know, in other words, dont write about a cantata just to add it to the list- if you do not have an original thought- something new, dont add it. I wanted to go where others hadnt in my writings on the cantatas.
Dave's favorite cantatas- 1, 4, 13, 22, 25, 27, 34, 47, 62, 80, 102, 103, 105, 115 (the funeral motette), 140, 147- most favorite- 27.
Cantata #1, "Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern" was actually composed 46th chronologically, but it would have been felicitous if composed first. It has a wonderful loping to it, the majestic swaying of the camels, perhaps, with the stars twinkling overhead. I give it more significance than most because it was composed around Mar. 26th, my birth date and close to Bach's-others being advent Cantatas, 61 and 2!.
#3, "Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid" opens with a "lament" chorus that reminds me of #27's opening chorus- it is drenched with sorrow. It also boggles the mind in its complexity- the interweaving of the choral parts. I wonder was B able to hear all those lines simultaneously?
#5, "Wo soll ich fliehen"- that wonderful way Bach handles hurried movement- fast going- as in the great "eilen" bass and chorus number in the
#6, "Bleib' bei" brings to mind the closing choruses of the great "St. Matthew" and "St. John" passions- going to sleep- lullaby choruses- the reassurance, the tenderness.
#7, "Christ unser Herr", I wondered was the up and down theme in the opening chorus sort of a whine of some type but the shine is in the harmony, as Whitaker points out- probably the waves on the river Jordan, waves dipping up and down.#8- opening chorus has a high repetitive flute figure that signifies Leipzig's funeral bell tolling- also #4 very positive aria for bass, "Give way all ye senseless, depart useless sorrows", now that I look at it- what does that mean- give way all ye senseless? Just goes to show how absurd translations can be- does it mean, give way all you village idiots?- shld be give way all ye senseless sorrows.
#14-knotty, intricate, difficult, late first chorus- plays on words "despair" and "wretched" Whittaker says, "fantasia is stern and gloomy-strict Pachabel form- war of Polish succession a possible influence"
#20-"O Ewigkeit"..w much interesting word painting for words of eternity, flames, pain, torment, fear, etc. The harmonies reflect the pain, and in the "remarks on execution" that are in my liner notes (Das Altewerke) it is stated: "The aria #8 for bass is very interesting. It is quite clear that in this case a natural trumpet in C is meant although B natural and A are not natural harmonics. B uses these kind of notes which are strange to the natural harmonies of the instrument and therefore sound wierd and out of tune, in order to produce a feeling of anxiety, fear and the atmosphere of a trial (similar to the aria for trumpet in B flat in Cantata #5)." And Whittaker writes: "one of the most remarkable passages in all the cantatas comes w arresting suddenness, mein ganz erschrocknes herz (my completely affrighted heart) is heralded by strong dissonances tossed in short fragments form oboes to strings, and when the canto is solemnly intoned the lower voices quiver on broken phrases to the word 'erschrocknes', an extraordinary transmutation of previous material; it is one of those strokes of genius that produces a felling of awe", or, "thematic material is exceedingly varied, long notes and gently undulating quavers to suggest eternity", or, "beautiful chromatic chages at 'dein betrubtes aug'-thy troubled eye'" or, "second duet is one of pure bliss" or, "longish bass recit. exploits w theological grimness the terrors of hell" (10), or, "from 'kurz' to 'geschwind' the vocal line zigzags down as if the universe were tottering" (is this Alban Berg?), or, "If the sermon dwelt on this verse it must have been truly harrowing and the call to the lost sheep to awaken and throw off the sleep of sin, which is the subject of the magnificent trumpet aria for bass", or, "pathetic, flattened 7th singles out the adjective of 'verlorne schaafe'- lost sheep", or, "splendid if grim cantata",,,all of which I quote to show to what lengths one my go in discussing these works- and I mean almost EVERY ONE of them!!! And that's only on the emotional content, let alone such specifics of composition as Whitaker concludes, "The work was probably written about 1725 and revised ten years later." How does he know such things. Could I become that knowledgeable and how long would it take me?
Cantatas 22, 23, 43 and inventive use of soloist who are then joined by chorus. I became increasingly entranced with 22- "Jesus Nahm Sich die Zwolfe" which begins with a tenor then goes to a baritone and then the chorus enters. The slow, stepping nature of the part for bass (Jesus) where he pleads with the disciples to See reminds me of that great opening chorus to the B Minor Mass. Then the chorus comes in petulantly, perhaps reflecting the words, "but they didn't understand". At least B's music HAD an audience; classical music today has less and less. Imagine being in the church that February day in 1723 when Bach presented a "probe" in demonstration of his talents the cantata # 22 "Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwolfe" Was there no one in the audience, as the tenor steps slowly up towards Jerusalem and the boys enter as chorus on "They however understood of it nothing"...no one on whom it dawned, like the sun rising, that he was listening, for the first time, to an incomparable genius!? No, one might say snottily, because there was no incomparable genius there to recognize one. B was chosen, after all, and I'm sure, if there was no understanding of the genius, at least they got a warm glow from the beautiful music, the oboes spiraling up and down. Perhaps the judges present were complimented at the idea of Jesus choosing his disciples. O what I would give to have had a video at THAT event! # 23 portrays the two blind men at the side of the road earlier mentioned. Wouldnt be a great test to make the great composers set this material- e.g. In what manner would you set two blind men at the side of the road react as Jesus goes by? But only Bach could pull so much beauty and meaning from such a text.
#25, "Es ist", the opening chorus ranks up there w the opening chorus to 101 for dissonance- a truly stinking, smelly portrait of the corpse like sin it portrays- horridly beautiful- as atonality is to tonality, so are these rare movements to the rest of B's choral work. Of this movement, Whitaker writes: "Picander (?) was not to be outdone by the Apostle's (Paul) sinister list, 'adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, withcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings and such like', and wallows in such expressions as 'The whole world is only a sick house, The other lies still with a loathesome stench on his honor', etc.- thus from Bach- a three quaver wailing figure which is maintained for 41 bars, alto and soprano begin with a mournful, heavily laden figure followed by a melody which includes those syncopated ideas so often found when God's wrath is spoken of; continuo moves in muttering semiquavers, betokening the troubled mind of the penitent; prevailing mood is of gloom; there is something foreboding and austere which gives the chorus a special character; but- B knew a consolation which the Psalmist wot not of-the Passion chorale played by the cornetto- in the midst of the gloom this strong, confident prayer to the Saviour asserts that whatever ills betide there is a rock on which to build, and hope of sure comfort; musically the effect of the number is magnificent, the chorale entries are a blaze of glory, technically it is an astounding feat; nothing is daunted his superb contrapuntal ingenuity; this is the only case in B's known choral-orchestral works where trombones are used for any purpose other than that of strengthening the voices. Perhaps in the lost cantatas there may have been other examples of this anticipation of the finale to Beethoven's 5th Symph. and Schubert's C Major." Whitaker's usual insightful explications.
The "word painting" throughout the cantatas is exceptional: the up and down lines portraying futility in the opening chorus, Cantata 26, "Ach wie fluchtig, ach wie nightig", "O how fruitless, how unimportant". Even if "fruitless", the music is still beautiful like clouds fading in and out of each other, the ephemera of a summer day, certain iridescent displays like hummingbird or butterfly wings, the oily surface of blown bubbles, the rainbow colors in pools of motor oil. So life is, you have to admit. Beautiful as well as absurd, although not absurd to B. "Ach Wie Fluchtig..." can be performed fast or slow. Another great es. of work painting: that bass aria (D what is it?) First to the left, then to the right".
The hymn tune with the words "Wer nur den lieben Gott last walten" is especially poignant, making all the Cantats in which it is used special, exceptionally so in Cantata 27, "Wer weiss, wie nahe mir mein Ende". Bach uses this hymn many times (which hymn does he use the most? which one did he like the most?); "Wer nur" has the following settings that I know about (I'm sure there 're others): in the Orgelbuchlein (BWV 659, 60, 61, 690, 691 and in Cantatas 21, 27, 61, 84, 88, 93, 166, 179). The pain in #27 is palpable, the grief so real, it drenches you...I get a tremendous feeling of personal, up-close sadness in this version, where B intersperses the chorus w wailing recitatives from the soprano, alto and tenor. Why no bass? The sorrow in # 4 (dave what #4 are you talking about?) , the one B made over into the B Minor Mass "Qui tollis", ranks up there with this one for pain and sorrow.
#29, "Wir Danken Dir-"the opening Sinfonia w/ organ made over from the solo violin partitia- and then perhaps Bach's favorite chorus "Wir Danken Dir" which is used twice in the B Minor Mass and ends it; I realize that I could have made the master laugh by suggesting to him that the trumpet lines which go up and then further up could continue going up and up with ever more trumpets- what would he think of that- I can see him smiling- "How can we ever thank God enough?" he might say, shaking his head...I wish there were a heaven so that I could make this joke w the master.
I never tire of the opening chorus to # 34, "O ewiges Feuer" with its note of "eternality" stretching on above the perhaps flickering flames; the stepwise entrances of the chorus here are SO inevitable. And to think that this was first a wedding cantata? Apparently it was one of the last cantatas composed? I was surprised to find that this and another of my favorites, BWV 118 the funeral motet were very late works, B saving the best for last.
"Brich dem Hongrigen die Brot" # 39 is exquisite music with a moral of utmost importance. I wonder about the sharp little setting of the word "Brich" at the beginning. Whittaker quotes Schweitizer as thinking that this represents the tottering of the weak, and yet, Schering sees it as a cutting, a snipping that represents the word "break" rather than "bring", i.e. breaking bread to feed the poor or as Christ broke bread at the last supper. It has delicacy that suggests imploring and mercy.
#46, "Schauet doch und sehet" has the same achingly sad quality as #27. Whittaker calls the fugue after its prelude Bach's most difficult choral writing- following the bass line I am inclined to agree. This is one of those cantatas where one senses a higher quality of writing- like 27 and 34 and 105- Bach outdoes himself. When I first heard this cantata in 2001 I was especially moved by the flutes which make the prelude in the opening chorus different from the B Minor Mass version- and was impressed that it had such a magnificent fugue after it (wasn't the "prelude" sublime enough iun its own right?. But B just tossed these things off!!!! When I think of the words to the Cantata version and then the morph Bach does with them into the "Qui tollis peccata mundi" and how the words of both versions resonated with each others' meanings, well...it just sort of leaves me speechless. The twists of harmony in the fugue remind me of #101, "Nimm von uns". Bach's opening choruses when they are preludes and fugues- as in C # 22 can be so amazing. Bach seems extra turned on by sadness (" ") and anger ("zorns") and behold ("sehet") as at opening of St. Matthew Passion or in #102?) themes. The bass aria is stupendous- and exceedingly difficult- and # 5, the alto aria without the bass- which Whittaker takes to be due to the gentleness of the shepherd and his sheep is especially effective in a strange new way. The choral seems strange with its flute obbligatos- and here again, maybe W is right to imagine interrupting bursts of flutter doves.
#47- Magisterial and stupendous opening chorus- a fugue- concerning pride, also one of the best bass recits and aria- in recit the words "Der mensch ist kot, staub, asch und erde- dung, filth, ashes and earth", and inspires Whittaker to write "Modern ears are apt to be offended by such texts". Whittaker writes one of his more extended commentaries on this Cantata ("B at his highest powers") and describes B revelling in such subject matter. I find it an example of the angry, scolding B - wlso present in the 102 - opening chorus- "Herr, deine Augen...". Bach truly loves to get mad, judgemental and scornful (who could blame him?) - but is also at his heights treating the subjects of death, and stuggily, whimpering pain and the oceanic. B is at his heights treating any subject he wishes to treat.
#48: in the Harnoncourt liner notes on the performance, reads : Once again the question of the setting of the tromba part poses considerable problems. Even the original sources seem to be extremely confusing. The autograph cover states corno, in the score, also autograph, it says tromba, while the part copier has written clarino on the part. No key signature appears in either the part or the score, but it is written as if it could only be a flat key signature (in other words as for an f instrument but without being transcribed!) - The term tromba incorporates all types of natural and slide trumpets; clarino is primarily a pitch description (for the fourth natural octave), which was used for the trumpet as well as for the horn. The notes required exclude natural horn and natural trumpet. It can, therefore, only concern an unusually high (clarino) slide trumpet with the flat key signature in the first movement perhaps referring to a root scale in E flat or F.
Dont you just love it? This heavenly music left in such a state! But the fact that the work is so magnificient makes this a piece of art worth poring over- as have Leonhardt and Harnoncourt.
#61 is the better known Cantata that uses the old hymn "nun Komm". And yet, for me, #62, the first chorus over the hymn tune "Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland" moves even more excitingly, with pace, and in inevitable stepping lines. To me this is all about advent, anticipation, something that is coming. It is almost a march. There is alot of faith in what is coming. I took this Cantata along with # 1 as kind of a motto- they were, I think, the two composed closest to my birth date of March 26. Easter...spring...pagan and Christian season of rebirth.
# 63- in the closing chorus- a Dave discovery! These discoveries give me more pleasure!- at Las den Dank, den wir dir bringen, angenehme vor dir klingen (Let the thanks which we bring to Thee, sound pleasingly to thee, let us ever walk in blessing) the music reminded me of the Gratias tibi and Dona Nobis Pacem in the B minor mass, two choruses that express similar ideas to the Cantata 63 chorus. I realized that the Cantata bit is the same only twice as fast!! I can imagine Bach reacting to this insight- were he standing beside me- it would be one of the first things I said to him. He would laugh and say, but of course, Dave- good looking out. Did B quote himself then? The answer has to be yes. I think B did everything thoughtfully, with foresight and hindsight! This whole Cantata, along with the one before it and the one after in the BWG numbering, is a special one, as John Eliot Gardiner says in the video that shows him rehearsing it. It reminds me of the Magnificat, in a way- and a test of the Bach scholar might be- can you tell when B is rising to a higher level in Bachs mind? Can you tell his more inspiring moments from his less?
The opening chorus to #77 is a mighty exegesis of the quotation from Luke- the trumpet in canon represents the LAW and moves INEXORABLY! Yes Bach IS the "learned composer" (author C. Wolfe) and this is a great Cantata for the trumpet.
# 80 "Ein feste Burg", is an example of the complex (Bs late style) in B- the different lines are so interwoven and dense that the plain emotionality of the music gets lost, to a degree. Glenn Goulds comment that he thought B was more interested in the design of a work than the sound- this would be an example- as The Art of the Fugue. But I would say, in certain works- B ismore interested in the design.
The grinding ugliness of war, plague, famine, etc., expressed in the opening chorus of 101, "Nimm von uns" is captured by startling dissonance, dissonance that seems to foreshadow the later 20th century experiments in harmony, the 12 tone rows for example. Bach would have found Schoenberg's adventures interesting but ugly, painful, immoral even. Tonal resolution probably had religious meaning for B. But, maybe he would have seen what Schoenberg was trying to do, and maybe would have been able to hear the mathematics in serial music the way Schoenberg probably heard it. Whittaker writes of 101, "At first it is strongly repellant; one feels that gloom and grimness have completely negative beauty, but as one becomes familiar with it that opinion disappears, and in performance is is overwhelming in its almost superhuman intensity".
There is a side to B that comes out in this Cantata that once he has set the progression of notes in a line, sometimes that line will be used regardless of the surrounding harmony so that the music is not totally congruent; I'm sure that there is an academic term for this, but I don't know it. Both Cantata 80 and 101 exhibit this.
Bach sets forcefully the opening chorus to Cantata 102, "Herr, deine Augen" (translation), almost bitterly reflecting the words. And yet the same line can be meltingly reverent given the word Kyrie as he uses it in the G Minor Mass. B's music is powerful enough to adapt to two different and even opposite moods, once the words are added. And yet I think there is a grim quality to the music of the 102 chorus which leeches into the later Kyrie it's made into. I never knew about the opening choruses to Cantata 102 or 105 until I was 54 and had gone through a lot of Bach. And I didn't know about 102 until the liner notes told me that the Kyria to the short Mass in G Minor had been borrowed from Cantata 102. Then I traced back to 102, loving the Kyrie. I found it was even better in the original Cantata version, where the interjections of "Herr" gave so much more sense to the music because they imply that God is watching us. The music had, after all, been originally written for that particular set of words.
#102 starts with great interjections of "Herr". The sentiment is condemnatory, having to do with our smallness in God's sight. There is a bite to the emotion that purely sweet passages don't have. This "Herr" chorus is also "oceanic", it seems to partake of an eternity (see Nietsche's sentiment as quoted in the Mahler third). I think B is conveying the majesty of "Lord". Indeed the most oceanic use Bach makes of the "Herr" word occurs in the opening chorus to the
I like the angry Bach which I take to be present in Cantata 102 and, for another example, the great bass aria from Cantata # ?, which begins "Wer stumme..", also the bass recit in # 47. . Bach gives basses a fair number of arias along these angry lines and as well, lines expressing warning, you better watch out lines. One of my favorite bass arias actually captures peevish fretfulness, that which opens Cantata 89, "Was soll ich dir zu machen, Ephraim?" Here Bach takes the personna of God adressing Ephraim, with whom he is not well pleased. And yet, his mercy is bestowed at a certain point in the piece, on the word "barmherzigkeit" and from then on the aria is conciliatory.
Although they are all amazing, some of the cantatas are more inspired than others. 105, "Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht", is a good example of an inspired cantata, from its opening prelude and fugue chorus through to the last, which, incredibly, goes from four beats to three to two to one, to produce the calming affect that is in the words? As in 102, the opening chorus has to do with God's awful judgement- it is a plea to the Lord that He "go easy" with "thy servant".
#103- Bach could have featured an accordion- were it known to him- the flauto piccolo in this opening chorus is all over the map w its obligato- and the switch ups between sadness and joy in this Cantata- o so ravishing ....
Bach is always inventive. He gives the solo in a work to each voice one at a time, or he uses rythms as in #105 at the end he uses half notes then quarters then eights (D get this right). He plays with numbers a lot and I know some commentators make a lot of this.
#140 is justly famous and could well vie for the title of "best" cantata (or 1 or 4, or 12 or 22 or 27 or 34 or 102 or 105), although one would not want to grade them so. Something about the story of the wise and foolish virgins captured B's attention, perhaps as it is captured at the beginning of the St. Matthaus Passion where daughters are again exhorted.
# 146 "Wir mussen durch viel Trubsal". I am amazed to find that the Sinfonia to this Cantata is none other than the first movement to the D minor clavier concerto, although in the Cantata it is scored for organ, the second movement is that concerto's second, adagio movement but scored for four part chorus (note also C # 169 or 170). Some modern composers have been quoting phrases or fragments from past composers. Bach could "quote" or rearrange himself- he had a wealth of material from which to draw. Also, aren't there a few instances of his quoting other composers? Whitaker writes of 146's second number "here he pressed this movement into service" for the cantata. Was he rushed that Sunday? intrigued by the challenge of the adaptation? The choral version sounds a bit "clotted" to me compared to the clavier version, although the organ of that period is certainly light and sprightly enough for the first movement. Be that as it may- Bach is THE all encompassing, oceanic artist. Probably some of his borrowings from himself were rushed, others sought after- as he sought movements from the cantatas for inclusion in the B Minor (or should we call it D Major) Mass or in the shorter "Lutheran" masses. We would be grateful if some of the other "perfect" composers- Chopin or Ravel-quoted themselves. With Bach, we are "eternally" grateful.
147 "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben" (which I humorously heard as "taters" because I thought the last word was Taten and then thought I heard it pronounced as tate- en but it's "leben" (I originally thought it should be totten but it wasn't taten anyway- it was leben)- in 2 parts- a justifiably famous, festive opening chorus; a chorus that takes a startling harmonic twist and turns at the word, " ". Then too, the chorale which ends both part 1 and 2 with its o so familiar lilting, syncopated bass- "Wohl mir das ich Jesum habe"- who hasn't heard it, raise yr. hand. This is one of the Bach chorales one hears most. Whitaker speaks of tempo with this chorus and how it is best if not too sappy- i.e. speedy. Rilling's version does it the slower, more "modern"? way and Harnoncourt/Leonhardt a faster more "ancient"? way? The last aria, the bass aria, one of the greatest for bass voice, reminds me of the one in the Christmas Oratorio at the end of # ? The tromba parts in this cantatai in the opening chorus and the bass aria- are particularly thrilling and remind me of the trumpet part in the 2nd Brandenburg- a stepping up which was one of my introductions to music and Bach at the Carmel Bach Festival back in the 40's. I think B would prefer the modern trumpet and its more piercing voice- Rilling uses it whereas Harnoncourt/Leonhardt use the older baroque tromba with its garden hosey mellow tones (more organic, more blending in). It is instructive to compare the Rilling version to the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt- the tempos taken in, the sound of the two versions. But over all it is the genius of B speaks deepest to me here- how the trumpet steps up into hope and eternity, how the trumpet parts at times underlay the other instruments as in the Brandenburg and you can barely make them out- LIKE THE POLISHED STONES YOU SEE AT THE BOTTOM OF A DEEP, CLEAR STREAM IN THE ROCKIES- MAYBE SOMEWHERE AROUND TAHOE OR IN A MOUNTAIN RANGE IN ARGENTINA- the clarity, the finish, the coolness, the brightness. I get a video of Harnoncourt conducting this- with a Schoenberg Chorus- love the way his eyes bug out- looks like mad genius.
B's #159 seems like a sketch for the "St. Matthew Passion"- it rises to a new level, especially in the bass aria "Es ist vollbracht". #158 has also a chorus w soloists that reminds of the St. Matthew.
169 or 70- two numbers that are used also in the Magnificat or St Matthaus Passion- the aria w the lost soul/ demons in it- the word jammert- is Bach showing great sadness here, sympathy for the lost? What- must recheck the words- highly chromatic- one of Bs best
#171- First chorus used again in B Minor Mass- note differences.
#186- "Argre dich o seele" In the opening chorus, the beloved master sets a word so dear to my personality- i.e. "frets" of course he does it perfectly- anticipating Alban Berg.
the differences in style between earlier and later Cantatas- one writer has pointed out of the late Cantata, # 14 (?) that it's opening chorus is like other of B's late highly contrapuntal, mathematical works- say the canonic variations on "Von Himmel Hoch" or "The Art of the Fugue" or "Musical Offering". The wonderful music professor Robert Greenberg, who is available on tapes and video, divides B's compositions into three (or is it four) stages- and the last is one in which he encyclopedically compiles his best into the B Minor Mass of Lutheran Masses or exhaustively explores styles (B Minor Mass, Art of Fugue, Goldberg Variations).
The hymn tunes of "Nun danket alle Gott", #192, and "Wie leuchtet", #1, and of course "Wachet auf", # 140, and "Ein feste Burg", # 80 are ones I actually knew from growing up in the church and singing them myself and with ma and with pa and my young companions at my prep school, Mt. Hermon!
Are not grief, woe, sorrow B's favorite emotions, they are in many choruses. Or they are the emotions he turns into music the best- not necessarily his favorite. nother often set emotion is that of the lullaby, going to sleep with overtones of death (B never far from the subject of death)...the two greatest examples at the ends of the
I had the privilege of singing under Robert Shaw twice before he died, with the Chorus, the Brahms "German Requiem", and on another occasion the Mozart "Great Mass in C" and Barber "Prayers of Kierkegaard". In a discussion after the latter performance Shaw described a performance he had conducted in a little church near
Shaw spoke of singing the B Minor Mass over and over again when he had taken it and the Columbia Singers "on the road". Didn't you get tired of it, he was asked? No, there was so much to discover in it, it had been composed with such love, that the voice actually strengthened singing it many times and you never tired of it, he implied. This, I knew as a singer, to be like the French prelate's, a "nice" story, bordering on bullshit; even the B Minor Mass would become tiring if you had to do it that many times.
J Reilly Lewis' ensemble doing the B Minor at 2nd Presbyterian in DC in Oct., 09- and Cand I are in the front row! tickets- $55. The horn (elsewhere I have called it a gardn hose) soloist in the "Quoniam"? plays with no valves- just a circular bunch of tubes. I commend him for his courage- he has only his lips. a wonderful discussion before by Mr. Marissen from Swarthmore College- he recommends the Rifkin edited edition- Bretkopf and Hartel. the B Minor as a specimen book- Christopher Wolfe. (dave go up to correspondence w Marissen at top)
dave attempts an interview w JSB- as w most interviews- somewhat hard to hear on the recording mechanism- rather sketchy:
d: " If I had to pick my favorites from your work- it would be the "Trio Sonatas"; what did you write them for? anyway- the organ setting is fine w me altho I have versions for organ, pedal harpsichord, or 2 cembalo- the three voices intertwining- what is the most voices you ever wrote a piece for?
jsb: - it didn't matter to me what instrument- as w many of my works- as to the voice lines? 14- in my "Little Labyrinthian Cantata"-
d : Sorry to say THAT is lost. That moment in the H Molle Messe? Where the "et in terra pax" begins? What were you thinking- it's one of my favorite moments.
jsb: "Was haben sie gesagt? mmmm...... Mine also.
d: To me, it is everything I stand for- pax...the most life affirming building blocks, steps upwards-
JSB- Ja, the joy of creation und so weiter...a high point, but realise from where I started- my ancestors, the baroque tradition, my hard work- it all falls into place. It's not that hard to imagine....
d: You have stated the deepest thoughts and aspirations of all humanity.
JSB: "Wie bitte?" (he is dozing off).
d: Didn't it scare you a bit? the responsibility?
JSB: "All in the counterpoint, the leading, dear boy, I hate to b technical- but when the trumpet comes in, why do you think I ended this piece the way I started it- going upwards? - think about it!
d: "mmmmmm, yes"
Fragments on JSB
...the mass of excellence in B, the sheer volume of it, the incredible painting of emotions in even the dullest of texts. Bach could have made moving music out of a laundry list. Probably he would have used a repetitive motif as he does in the repetitious mimicry of the clock in "Schlage Doch", Cantata ? (102?, 5?) . It would be repetitious, but it would be beautiful. He could have made something out of the fact that the laundry was dirty or clean, or whether it was of dress shirts or underwear, and if underwear, was it Lutheran or Papist (God forbid).
B has many imaginative ways of word painting- not just one- he is more clever by far than Handel- it seems to me- goes much deeper. Handel might portray the plague of locusts rather obviously- Bach can portray more abstract topics- theological topics (not to sell Handel short). E.g. the way the "Omnes, omnes" in the "Magnificat" where the omnes is repeated- how it just fills up the ear with- all- all!
It is a relief B did not portray all the emotions, there would have been little else for composers who came after him to do. Music progresses as it discovers new emotions to portray (and vice versa), as well as new techniques by new composers; one hears the mood of despair in Baroque composers well enough, but take the mood of resignation, guilt and sorrow. Does not Chaikovski do this better than any one, say in the "Pathetique Symphony"? Chopin identified the melancholy cast in his music as the "bleu" or Polish "zal" harmony; Rachmaninoff adds his own brand of wistful, melancholic resignation.
As history moves along new emotions seem to bubble up for expression, maybe a cutzee joking or melting tenderness in Schumann (although there is plenty of tenderness in Bach), an eroticism in Wagner or Ravel, not particularly emotions Bach chose to portray. The same is true in other arts.
One is so grateful to B's greatest pupil Mendelssohn for continuing the pleasure that B gave us by writing more music in the same style, reviving the St. Matthew Passion and paying homage in his own works to B, in "St. Paul" and his own cantatas and other neglected choral pieces ("Singet den Herrn", and in the organ sonatas, etc).
When I discovered the Bach cantatas and the many Mendelssohn choral pieces that are not performed, I got the impression that there is a wealth of art in the world that I would never get to the end of as long as I lived. This gave me a great feeling of security. It made me ponder the beautiful places on earth I will never get to see, the beautiful places on other planets none of us will get to see!, and in that sense this also made me sad.
There is a fabulous sense of closure at the end of M's pieces, he does endings BETTER than Bach, whose endings can come abruptly. The endings of "Elijah" and "
Thanks also to one of B's greatest interpreters, Glenn Gould, who recreated B's genius anew and during my lifetime.
I fantasize that Glenn has written me: DAVE, I'd suggest the Brahms exercises for your inner voicing fingering problems. After all- I had an autograph from Helene Grimaud telling me to "Practicer dur" and from Angela Hewitt- "Dave, practice", "Dave practice hard"- Barry Douglas- 2 Rachmaninoff autographs, a Bronfman, a Uchida, a Dinerstein, a Ruth Laredo on my copy of the 18th variation, Paganini Var.- "We love you Rachmaninoff", several from Thibaudaut...
Beethoven, who liked Handel better than Bach, does homage to Bach in his interesting fugal gestures (see more below under choral literature).
You could simply be seated in a chair just about every day of your life and BE AMAZED by something in Bach. For example, I had not listened through the 6 Violin and Cembalo "sonatas" until 1999. I sat down and got to the incredible #3. Or I would find a Cantata that I'd never listened to before and find a chorus or aira to be magical (Bach is the only artist that continually astounds in this way, to my thinking). I guess Mendelssohn, Rimski, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Ravel could be mentioned in the same breath. But there was no other composer whose work that I had not heard did I look forward too so much. Bach always rewarded me.
Bach's writings and biography show him to be adroitly political, in his manipulations with town councils and various rulers, great and small. The guy was undoubtedly well rounded, good with money, jokes and children. Terri Towe says "obese".
One commentator makes the point that B was one of the last composers who, as a journeyman, a tradesman, had no knowledge of the fame or influence that his music might have after him for the ages. He composed as a bricklayer might lay bricks, each one with pride, more to please God than posterity. There's nothing precious about it, the artist has not yet become the "artiste", famous in his or her own right, the romantic loner of a Manfred or Eugene Onegin; ego is not such a big issue. B relates more to God than himself, relating to self is unseemly. But then, the down side is that certain self emotions are missed. They remain for the romantics and moderns to discover. Beethoven gave music great new paths to follow in this regard.
I communicate with Teri Towe (sp), who has a wonderful web page on the faces of Bach- he has researched the various portraits and can tell you which are authentic, which not. Turns out also that Teri went to
Both Bach and Rachmaninoff have critical gazes- at least in a couple of the images I possess- they both possess a discernible "looking right through you" or an "I don't take any crap" mien. But the best discussion of an authentic B painting is by John Eliot Gardiner in the video on his rehearsal of #63.
I sense in Bach a very high self esteem or self opinion- he feels free to borrow from his own composition more than any other composer- he KNOWS that it is THAT good!!
the thought of the lost "St Mark's Passion" rotting away and disintegrating in Wilhelm Friedeman's (according to Wolff one of B's son's lost more inherited material than the other) cellar- the way my Mr. Hermon yearbook did when the wet got to it and the pages stuck together and then it dried and crumbled- this is an awful thought...
the Brandenburg 5, 1st mv't- should it be slow or fast? should the keyboard b submerged or prominent- from bar ? I love this keyboard part- I consider it a cadenza- I want it slow, majestic and featured! and what would Pere B say?- he never heard it played the way our fab 20th century ensembles can- so fast- so precise- Glenn Gould or the ensemble- he conceived it on the page and one wonders if he even had a conception of how it would ideally be heard or played?the best tributes to B by other composers?- Mendelssohn overall but especially in "St Paul", St Saens at the beginning of the 2nd piano Concerto- Fritz Kreisler's "Intro and allegro" (is this the right title?), the Brahms version of the violin "Chaconne" for piano left hand- Beethoven's fugal efforts- Schumann's; Hindemith in general, the Italian modern on the letters BACH- - is it Casella?, Rachmaninoff's transcription, clarenetist Richard Stoltzman's transcription of the organ- this in the documentary movie "Friends of Bach" by Baltimorean, ?, a documentary IN NEED OF SEVERE EDITING!
Music for chorus
bread and puppet theatre museum
I sang in choruses most of my life: at
I had performed the "Symphony of Psalms" and "Oedipus Rex". A concert under the direction of David Zinman, of the Bach "Magnificat" and the S "Oedipus Rex" was a
the Mozart Mass in C...some choruses pay homage to Handel, some to Bach. Then you come to that cadenza where the M allows the soprano to follow the oboe as if this were a Concerto for voice. Heart stopping! The opening chorus measures up to Papa Bach, with its B Minor Mass style introduction. Interesting how M inserts the voice in choruses of the C Minor Mass and Requiem in a way Bach does only occasionally in the Cantatas.
I never thought much of Haydn's choral music- I think he didn't have much juice left at the end of his life when he composed the masses; the "Creation" and I can't even remember the other big work are equally boring. But I liked H's string quartets.
I almost love the Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" (MS) as much as Bach's "B Minor Mass" (or as I prefer to call it) the H Moll Messe. There is an awkwardness to this "Missa" that comes as B is forced to set a text to his so libertarian music, he is MADE to conform and we can see that he does not like to. There was a before I heard the Missa Solemnis, there was an after! I can remember hearing it at first- finding it a bit strange- they hearing it some more. What an experience.
The M.S. is so human, all that stomping around, the restlessness, the sudden reversals, the "word painting". The interjection of the battle sounds in the "Dona nobis pacem" (is that a Haydn influence) is just what I mean, and B's motto, "from the heart, may it go to the heart"? Coming from HIM, this is saying something. We can trust him. We know him to be uncompromising, and he reminds us of it as he steadily sets the music to the words in the last two movements, bringing the mass to a quiet close, rather than ending with a bang. There is a restless experimenting that goes on with the highest level composers. They will not bore us or themselves! B is especially restless- it is his trademark. Look at his messy scores- all the erasing- this is no Bach or Chopin.
The "Kyrie" ranks up there with Bruckner's E Minor mass "Kyrie", in its hushed beauty, the two speeds of it so telling of passages to come, as B is always shifting gears, faster to slower, slower to faster to match the mood and heighten the tension- this messe is like a great engine starting up. The feeling of harmonic tension throughout B's and Bach's work is another facet that makes them both so great. They are always on a very high level, there are only degrees of highness!! Beethoven's Mass unwinds and lets go or winds up like so many coils and springs. Hes always going for drama, for contrast. He is organic- true to himself- no formulas.
The "Gloria" winds up to end with a bang, but the "Credo" movement winds down at the end.
The story that Schindler tells of dropping in on B as he is composing the "Credo" fugue and hearing him storming around the room has to be one of the most moving stories in music. And B's "Et vitam venturi..." fugue never fails to grip me. In its quirky way, it has as much power as the most powerful Bach. But it is a fugal gesture more than a Bachian fugue worked out to the end. Was this the most difficult to compose work of Bs?
Beethoven paints the emotions with his music in a different, more specific way than Bach; is the "Et vitam", is it a statement of surety about or a pleading for this "world of the life to come". I always think of wind when I hear that word "venturi", it is as if all we can predict of eternity is that it will be wind, there is this rushing sound (see also the last movement of Chopin's Sonata #2, the "funeral sonata", where after the funeral march there is a last scherzo that, as I believe Cortot said, is like the "rustling of leaves over a grave" but it reminds me of Beethovens Et vitam). Chopin seems to have obsessed about death, but not in a religious way .. until his death when he had a deathbed conversion, probably just hedging his bets.
In Bs double fugue..the "Et vitam": I can see the poor deaf one, turning out these phrases as you or I might turn out a hamburger on the grill. Does he know how great it is, as he does it? He did not think in these terms. At one moment the lilting treatment of the theme turns around and it comes in faster, some awkward runs and intervals for the chorus, then the theme stomps itself out mightily and unwinds into the quartet and chorus singing amens. The shifting of gears is impressive in this mass.
As in his piano and instrumental works, except for maybe the string quartet "Grosse Fuge", B doesn't seem to be able to finish fugues. That fugue at the end of the "Hammerklavier Sonate" is one of his least successful works. It works as an oddity and that's it. Yes it is very worked out but its main subject seems arid and intellectual, it's a subject lacking emotion, unlike the Bach fugal subjects in general. Similarly, the subject in the "Grosse Fuge", although that less so. Have you heard the "Grosse Fuge" for two pianos (or is it one piano four hands?) There is such a version. But the fugal subjects in the "Missa Solemnis" are very impressive-even hummable like Bach's organ fugues but more jagged; one wishes B would have developed them all the way out to the end like Bach. He simply doesn't have the patience, or the training in counterpoint?
Beethoven, the master of theme and variations, seems too impatient to develop a fugue out to the end, but he definitely draws on fugal power when he needs to. The fugue is a statement of strong will too irresistible for the tempestuous, stamping and stomping around Beethoven to resist, especially in the "Missa Solemnis". But he does not maintain his initial forcefulness all the way through in the same way that Bach does.I sang many roles as a chorister: I had been in the crowds in both of Bach's passions, attending the events of the Bible and Jesus' life, hollering conservative things like "We have a law", or just setting the scene in some way, such as "Look there" (beginning of "St. Matthew Passion"). I had been one of the reveling satyrs in Ravel's "Daphnis and Chloe" ; I had been part of the aristocratic set of Russians at the ball in Tchaikovski's "Queen of Spades" and was one of the officers commenting on Herman's sad deterioration at the end of the opera. Sergiu Commissiona was our conductor for the "Queen" (a concert version) and had forgotten to bring us in for our entrance at the ball scene for a full 15 measures ( we were literally late for the ball). Moments like these seem to last for an eternity although we came in en masse by ourselves and it is doubtful that one person in the audience knew the difference. I had been part of the stoic Greek "chorus" shouting praise to Jocasta in Stravinksi's "Oedipus Rex". I wished I could have shouted the Russian praise "slava" in that thrilling opening to Moussorkgski's "Boris" but I did get the chance in Prokofiev's "Alexander Nevsky". I had been a sycophantic hedonistic pagan praising the gods of iron, wood and bronze in Walton's "Belshazzar's Feast".
Berlioz' "Faust" ranks high in choral works in my opinion, and in that chorus part we were not only "slyphs" but drunken students in the "Song of the Rat" and as well angels and also assistants to the devil, singing his praises in a "hellish" language that had been made up by Berlioz (maybe on opium?) also sardonically singing a fugal parody of church music. I saw the Met production of "Faust" on 10/ 23/'09- and I doubt it can be surpassed. I notice the cinematic nature of the scenes and their connections- althio one critic points out that the "fragmentariness" usual in B is avoided more in "Faust". This production has more special effects than any other production than maybe the Corigiliano "Ghosts of Versaille"? I noticed also the beauty of B's arias- altho so different from the german or italian that the audience did not- altho they should have- clapped! The same antic Berlioz present in "Beatrice and Benedict"- similar use of the fugue. Successful comic opera seems rare- altho Ravel's " Horloge something"- on the woman w the lover who hides in the clock? Well....... Ravel?- a different story.
I had also been devilish in Hindemith's "Apparebit Repentina" and as well in Elgar's "Dream of Gerontius". Only the women got to be the angels in that piece (and probably the Berlioz) but I believe we were all angels in Mahler's Eighth Symphony (thank you Gustav). I can't remember whether the prelude to Boito's "Mephistopheles" had us as angels of devils. I stood in front of the church as a supplicant?in Mascagni's "Caverilla Rusticana". I was raffish beggar in Weill's "Three Penny Opera" and a drunken monk in the Orffs "Carmina Burana". (The greatest choral joke? You say Carmeena and I say Carmyna, you say " " and I say , Carmeena, Carmyna, "Lets call the whole thing Orff) (some one else is going to have to give me the whole of this!). I had been a heroic Russian fighter in Prokofiev's "Alexander Nevsky", a street fighter in Bernsteins's "West Side Story", a Resistance fighter in Schoenbergs
How perfectly Brahms sets "Schicksalslied" and the "Alto Rhapsody" to music- the classic poetry by Holderlin and Goethe flawlessly worked out.
I sang under the baton of Krystov Penderecki (a sort of insignificant ?"Psalms of David") and, along with the rest of the chorus, had received praise from a great living American composer John Adams for our version of his "Harmonium" in the 1980's.
I loved modern, new music. It stretches the ears. As the American composer Charles Ives said, music should not be an easy chair for the ears to flop down in and relax, it should challenge and confront. And confront Ives does. One choral piece of his I know of would be fun to do, the "Circus". It has all the Ivesian clashes of harmony and rhythm. It's almost an annoying piece. Just as Charley liked it. His disdainful word for the conservative, Brahms loving critics who panned his works was the "lily boys". The "lily boys" probably liked the sweet tame harmonies you'd get in hymns sung at a funeral. Very macho, eh?
One question I`d have asked Ives, how much of this music can you hear as you are composing it? I don't think he played it on the piano and then wrote it down and it is not done according to a mathematical system like Schoenberg`s. There is a recording of Ives playing the piano and hitting some clusters, but more with the palm of his hand or with his fist than in any planned way. He loved to shock. I think his composition is more in the "let's try this and see what it sounds like" vein than anything he could really hear.
I get a chance to explore this question with the American composer John Harbison at a concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on 3/10/2000. He was in town to discuss a piece David Zinman was presenting (Z is guest conducting this concert which also includes the Sibelius 6 and the Elgar Violin Concerto (a wierd piece). If any one would know the answer to this question it is John. He implies, yes, composers like Berg and Schoenberg, and himself CAN actually hear all the lines in their pieces. I ask him about the Berg Violin Concerto. Well, he says, I don't know what Berg's composing methods were exactly, but...he goes on to talk of Beethoven and Mozart and how, particularly with Beethoven, we have a record of his ways of composing through his notebooks and scraps. Of course, Beethoven and Mozart are NOT the composers I had in mind, and I go on to press him about a composition like Schoenberg's "Moses Und Aaron"? He tells me that before the later Schoenberg was the earlier one- the S of "Pelleas" and "Gurrelieder" and implies that S knew exactly what he was doing.
But then maybe composing (like most skills) takes a level of practice and expertise one could understand did one rise to it. A level of understanding that enables a composer like Berg, Schoenberg, Ives to hear the music he is composing? With practice and training the composer reaches a point where he does not compose the piece UNLESS he hears the lines. Otherwise he is taking a chance on accident and will see how it sounds, or he is composing by formula and doesn't care HOW it sounds. It's like Phil Berrigan's knack for civil disobediance. If you have done it all your life, it becomes easy! Harbison's opera "The Great Gatsby" has recently played the Met! If the piece I hear by Harbison this evening is any example (the "Music for 18 Winds"), then he is a composer of talent!.
Krystof Penderecki comes quickly to mind thinking about 20th Century choral music. He has numerous large pieces, the "Passion according to St. Luke", the "Dies Irae, Auschwitz Oratorio" (complete with fire engine sirens). We did his "Psalms of David" at the Lyric about the year I started with the chorus (`81, `82). It was a rather uninspired atonal piece, unfortunately, a bit academic unlike later, more adventurous and exciting works. The exciting thing was that Penderecki was there in front of us! The piece I know the best is his "Magnificat", a wonderfully haunting work, filled with many glissandi. I have the score in which choral lines swoop up and down by quarter tones- it is NOT guess work. The chorus sounds like bees in a hive.
Bernt Alois Zimmerman committed suicide in the late sixties. The cd of his "Requiem for a Young Poet" presents us with music of computer bleeps and bloops, quotes from recorded speeches, fragments from the classics (Beethovens' Ninth, the Beatles) and Perdereckian techniques. There is plenty of chorus in the piece. It does not spend much time on a melodic line, just sort rises or sinks from one pitch to another. Perhaps this is notated for the chorus members by writing a pitch and telling you to rise a half step over say eight beats, like a warm up exercise our chorus director gave us before rehersals and performances. Or maybe, as in the Penderecki, it is notated precisely by quarter tones- I have never seen a score.
Another "swarming bees" piece- from the Lygeti "Requiem" was used in the movie "2001, A Space Odyssey" for the sequence where apes are shown tossing some jaw bones up in the air and the camera zooms in on a futuristic black box, some kind of sci fi terminal or gate for advanced communications. Like Penderecki, Lygeti uses glissandi. He starts way down low on the words "lux aeterna" and gradually meanders upwards, not by whole or half steps but by quarter tones, eighth tones, sixteenth tones, micro tones, again, to me, it sounds like a swarm of bees. You would feel like you were in a hive if you sang this. The women join in as the pitch slowly rises in fits and starts, a stunning effect, and most certainly appropriate to space, stars, exploration, mystery, the discovery of a humming black box that is a strange gate or portal.
Other living composers with very exciting pieces for chorus are Arvo Part, Alfred Schnittke Died recently ('99), and John Taverner.
Part likes to contrast very simple progressions or quotes from past composers with great blocks or clusters of dissonant chords. In his "Credo" he uses the first prelude from Bach's "Well Tempered Clavichord", alternating it with massive interjections of screaming/shouting from a large chorus. The chorus which I have on my CD of this work must have felt physically exhausted after singing it.
Their use of glissandi, either vocally or instumentally, where the sound slides upward or down reminds me a bit of Sibelius. Because there is no definite progression from note to note (as on the piano keyboard) the impression left is a bit spooky. And yet, the effect does not create mere unease. Sibelius used the effect to portray the nature of his
Schoenberg called his massive "Moses and Aaron" an opera although it's very like an oratorio. Perhaps THE most difficult all modern choral pieces to learn because it's so strictly 12 tone, I notice that, luckily for the basses, their part is sometimes doubled by strings or horns. S scrupulously avoids any tonal reference, which makes his music quite hideous. There is hardly one single point in the whole piece that reminds you of anything or about which you will think, "gee, that was pretty" or "gosh, that was in the key of F Sharp minor". Doing this piece for the music alone would not win many adherents, although the golden calf orgy scene would be fun to be in (some nudity is called for). This music is uncompromisingly obnoxious.
On the positive side, "Moses and Aaron" is challenging! It would be good as an exercise, to stretch ones ears so to speak- make other madern works easier to hear. To my ears, the only serial choral writing worth listening to is Stravinsky's in the "Requiem Canticles" ,"Canticum Sacrum" and "Threni".
Hindemith's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed" is a large scale work that is more harsh and astringent than atonal. There is reference to keys, as in Alban Berg, that makes the music, as in other modern pieces, more palatable.
There are, thankfully, many modern choral pieces that are harsh though not totally atonal. One example is the "Alexander Nevsky" by Prokofiev which we performed; his "October 17", is filled with the usual ferocious clashing harmonies and such other effects as sirens, etc. I don't know why he didn't put gun shots in. When you hear this piece, I think you`ll agree that machine gun fire would have added a lot! I heard "Ivan the Terrible" by Temirkanov in 2001-it bored me.
Speaking of dissonance brings Britten to mind, his "Spring Symphony" and "War Requiem", both pieces we have done. These are marvellous pieces. Britten experiments with various modern techniques, but always "relates" to keys and tonality. He flirts with the atonal, but some of the sections of the "War Requiem" are in a romantic mode, harmonically. B loves to write/use two a half step apart in his harmony- a bracing clash. Britten uses dissonance to illustrate the text. The opera "Peter Grimes" captures the sound of the sea, although I could not tell you how. It's an uncanny shrill, whistling sound, like waves and wind, but Britten does it with his harmonies, not with wind machines. The opening chorus of the "Spring Symphony": "Shine out, faire sun" positively pleads for warmth; there is a tremendous cold in the opening vibraphone and a blazing "rightness" to the culminating smash of the chord at "Shine out!" (not to mention the unvelievable poetry!).
The Shostokovich "
Mahler's unforgettable choral masterworks are his 2nd and 8th Symphonies. The last movement "Auferstehn" of #2 is a
The most beautiful 20th century choral pieces are very tonal. We performed Elgar's "Dream of Gerontius" (1900) with David Zinman. His "The Apostles " and "The Kingdom " were composed after "The Dream" in 1903 and 06. These were intended to be part of a trilogy but the third was never composed. Actually, taken with "Dream of Gerontius", they do form a sort of trilogy and they are all marvelous pieces. If Wagner had written religious choral works they would have sounded like Elgar.
The poetry in "Gerontius" was metaphysical. I got the complete poem out of our Enoch Pratt Library. They had to retrieve it from back in the stacks. Dave on the volumne? 1865. There were many lines Elgar could have used in his oratorio- for example, where Gerontius feels paralyzed, unable to "stir a hand or foot", no longer able to assure himself that he has "a body still". Or Gerontius feels "as though I were a sphere" and there are many other wonderful conceits. There are "angels of the sacred stair", or the "fourth choir of angelicals". There is demon material Elgar could have used, Newman speaks of "such fudge as priestlings prate" or saits' bones "which rattle and stink". At one point the poet tries to show how it would feel to be a disembodied soul, such as war veterans who have lost limbs but " cry that they had pains of hand or foot as though they had it still". The poet speaks of "dreams that are true yet enigmatical" or symbols that are "fragrant, solid, bitter, musical". The difficulty of describing the indescribable is truly the stuff of poetry. Such thoughts as "Ice which blisters may be said to burn", etc. Setting the whole poem might have been like another Ring cycle.
Durufle's "Requiem" seems greatly influenced by the Faure, they are both very quiet, gentle pieces. Mendelssohn's "
The two Durufle masses are meltingly exceptional pieces. They remind me of Debussey and Ravel, and their oohs and aahs as in "Daphnis and Chloe" and "Demoiselle Elu" . I hear other French influences, Caesar Franck, and the other masters of the french organ school, Dupre, Widor, Langlais. Why would we listen to 12 tone choral works when we can listen to Durufle? I can hear Bach applauding Durufle loudly. D is plainly interested in beauty, not pain or ugliness. History will prove the 12 tone, Schonbergian alley a dead end. An interesting and helpful alley it is, to be sure, one which it was worth going down, no question but not a road we will follow. We will gravitate to beauty, although we appreciate the intensity the contrasting ugly works give to beauty.
Rachmaninoff is his usual assuredly beautiful self in his choral works: "The Bells" and "Vespers" and his cantata, "Spring".
The Frank Martin Mass for double choir unaccompanied is wonderful as is the Jongen Mass for unaccompanied choir also the Jongen "Requiem". The Leonard Bernstein and Andrew Lloyd Weber requiems are interesting. Other lesser known pieces: the "Seven Seals" by Franz Schmidt, the massive and moving Requiem by Maciejewski (this one's time will come), Havergal Brian's "Gothic Symphony", Randall Thompson's "Peaceable Kingdom" or Aaron Copland's "In the Beginning".
the ravishing Poulenc acapella "Mass", harmonies much more lush than in Stravinsky although sometimes Poulenc repeats gestures in his works, to my thinking. I also like the Frank Martin "Mass" for two acapella choirs...
Stravinski is perhaps the greatest choral composer of the 20'th century- espcially at the end of his life- the "Mass", the "Threni"- like Bach- he realises (sp) what his legacy will b- what is that # they played at his funeral in Venice? w the xylophones or celesta? "Requiem Canticles"? S knew what he was doing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
bread and puppet theatre museum
(if I could rotate this upright- I would- again from the Bread and Puppet Theatre Museum)
Go into a cathedral where the organist is playing Messaien. Have a seat in a pew or on a chair. Look at the stained glass and realize how much Messaien though about color. You will never be the same!
Suffice it to say- any choral works by members of the french organ school are probably worth listening to- the Durufle masses are fabulous, the Dubois "Seven Last Words", Franck's choral works, etc, I'm sure there are other works. The french organ school comprises wonderful composers. The baroque masters- Clerambault, Marchand D'aquin and Charpentier are definitely worth a listen. In more modern times, there is the grandfather- Caesar Franck with his organ works comparable to Bach's. After that, my favorites are Durufle, Messaien and Langlais, in that order. I would like to hear more Vierne, Pierne, Tournemire, Dupre, Widor, Guilmant, Dubois, Mulet, Lemmens, Lefebure-Wely, Guillou and Hakim, and others I dont know.
I had amazing good fortune during my '97? trip to Paris for a friend of C's father let us stay in his condo/apartment while he was out of town at the address of # Ste Genvieve; it not only had a garden, on one side it looked out across a small street ( ) to the gargoyles of Ste Etienne de Mont, the church where Durufle and his wife were organists. This apartment was RIGHT NEXT to the church and the organ loft! One day I could hear organ music emanating from the church- it was THAT close. What was the piece- the harmonies were modern. The church seemed to float gently that day, like the more famous Sacre Coeur in Monmartre, it also floated like a castle does in a sky by the surrealist painter, Magritte. It was an icon's raised palm. The music was massively grindingly moving, like some tremendous flank of an animal on another planet that we have not seen before- gray as the stone and the monstrous outreached faces of the gargoyles. On that day I did not recognise the piece but I later found out what it was when I attended the Sunday service and Monsieur 's pieces were listed on the program along with the rest of the order of the mass. It was Messaien's "Vision de l'Eglise Eternelle" . Messaien's organ and piano pieces on the Nativity, the Resurrection, the church, etc. breath mysticism. They are growly, spiky in harmony and wierd in rhythm .curt and strange, like landscapes of Chiroco's. Sometimes kitschy, sometimes crunchingly dissonant- they are often moving. They pose a large contrast to Durufle, who looks back to early polyphony and uses a more gentle harmonic language reflective of Faure and Franck- and in the harmonic language of the Godfather himself- Dukas..
We were lucky in
After French Organ Marathon of 5/23/ 20? , I stayed from 2 until 4:45- they went on until 7. I found it revelatory, eye opening, consoling. Such beauty- and played so well. The spiritual- a la Bachs comment- comes out in organ music. The Widor "Symphonies". The Jongen and Vierne toccatas were awesome. One participant played two Elevations by Thierry Escaich, who is in his forties. This player told me that Escaich is Durufles successor at Ste Etienne du Mont!! A powerful composer. A St. Saens Prelude and Fugue- Daquin, Balbastre noels. It strikes me that the French are more cheery/ cheerful than the Germans. The harmonies take me away as into an acquarium- new colors, new combinations. Jongens Chorale. Peobody prof.s Vierne Lamentoso and Jonathan. Langlais- influence of blindness. Sad to miss Hells performance at the 4/5 marathon- hear Widors Symphony #9- grinding first movement- heavenly slow movement. Importance of Franck comes to the fore- how he, as no one since Mendelssohn, adds so much to Bach. I later hear a marathon of all of Messaiens organ works at the National Catholic Cathedral- which, like the National Episcopal Cathedral, sort of out de4os
Encountering the French organ school from Franck on- its harmonies- like entering the atmosphere of a wondrous strange new planet of harmonies- an entire world- like the
Composers I have loved the most
Schumann- back in the Essays chapt. w Rachmaninoff and Movie Music
Beethoven has the guts to trust his own instincts- even in Bach, while one senses an immense imagination- it is yet set to (or hemmed in by?) polyphonic formulas- in Beethoven- we are on the open seas- he is content- possibly forced- to follow his own rapidly changing imagination; he is very impatient- but very "radical"- he trusts his own ideas- and what a great self it is! B spins idea out after idea- andf they are so right- you can remember them- they are incredibly logical!
B is "in your face"!
I wonder about B's sex drive? did he sublimate it? or what?
B's Violin Concerto, one of first works in which the composer shocks by quiet, that is, shows its beauty is in the quiet and reflective over all and not just flashy effects? a precursor to the Faure Requiem, the Brahms Requiem.
I would like to write more about the changes in rhythm in late B works- there is this spot in the "Grosse Fuge" that is so like the "et vitam" change of tempos in the "Missa Solemnis" and also spots in the "Diabelli Variations" and the last piano sonata where B lopes into syncopation- somethin fabulous going on here!!
B and Berlioz as first modern composers...before them, who?
a marvelous video of Murray Perahia playing the B Concertos w Neville Mariner and St Martins; perfect playing, I think a good word for his style is "purling", "silken", so assured it restores my faith and hope to witness, a nice contrast to Glenn Gould and yet P also some times sort of directs w the left hand if it is not playing and he is so absorbed in the music, makes me wonder about obsessive/compulsive; point is made that B's 1st and 2nd are an extension of Mozart, as if he lived longer and I agree- everything about these is marvelous, B does M's harmonies a little rougher- more raw, deeper- the rhythms more surprising, more swinging; Mozart's Concertos 17-25 + Beethovens 1 and 2? Paradise, perfection, bliss, fabulosity, unbelievability, like Bach- direct pipelines to God, the aether, whatever!!!!!
In the Variations for Piano 4 hands, Op. ?, Schubert, in my opinion, demonstrates some elements which he added to the evolution of classical music: there is a gentler, poetic, singing, mysterious feeling that adds onto B, B has it but not in S's way-music was never the same after either; then, S has a sense of modulation between keys, between major and minor that is marvelous- I think Rachmaninoff has this also; he hs a sense of exploration in harmony particularly evident in the th variation. the way S gives interest and propulsion to his variations by varying the rythm.Wagner
the wonderful Tony Palmer movie "Wagner" w Richard Burton- high points- the cathedral at Siena (model for "Parsifal")- Nietsche confronts W-W and Liszt at the end in the Italian garden
The problem w Wagner is a big one! No greater example of an asshole as a person yet sublimity in the music- raising the question- hgow could God allow such a contradiction? the problem of good and evil.
Where W describes himself composing as sitting before a loom, weaving....o yes- so perfect- the place to be!!!!!!!!!!! greatest composers of opera? Britten, Wagner, Korsakov.
Parsifal: I had P on video- the Mets version under Levine; his conducting is fluid and assured. Waltraut Meier is a fabulous Kundry, Kurt Moll an impressive Gurnenanz- a voice like a laser beam, Siegfried Jerusalem fine- I wish his voice was a bit less wavering, more like the great tenors on the Harnoncourt-Leonhardt Bach Cantata recordings, although oratorio singers are not going to be used in the opera houses.The music pours on in continuing beauty although the plot the musics hung on borders on the laughable- a bunch of guys in the forest, the leader on a litter, acting for measure after measure as if he had a bowel or stomach problem (a slight problem with Bernt Weikls acting?)! But I hope Ill be able to sing from my death bed like Amfortas. Franz Masura is the Klingsor.
I wish Glenn Gould had transcribed this for piano as he did parts of other of Ws operas... From Wagners harmonies come Elgar, Berg, Korngold. The chromaticism and excellence of composition throughout remind me of Bach. P is a very SLOW opera but not tedious. It requires patience, but so does much of Wagner. Great lines: the woodland creatures are your friends,good deeds will be nourished by this feast, the innocent fool made wise by pity- whatever thats supposed to mean (Ghandi, Thoreau, Father Berrigan? But they are not fools), what confusion reigns- we seek our holy salvation while we yearn for damnations bliss, etc. The womens choral singing in Act II is erotic like one of the tapestries in a Vermeer. Is there a greater choral opera? (yes, Dave- quite a few) the men generally, the boys at the end of Act I, the women in Act II
Does any music sum up feelings of satisfaction in old age better than Gurnemanzs in the meadow in Act III?: You see that it is not so, the sinners repentant tears blend with the morning dew; all creatures rejoice, even the meadows rejoice today. So nature is renewed! I think I am going to pay more attention to Good Fridays from now on!! Then, the Titurel burial march with deep, deepest bells That haunting rhythm- bum de da da- the scene with the coffin opened and Amfortass tribute to his father? Reminds me of Dylan Thomas great vilanelle: Do not go gentle into that good night (which Dylan surely didnt). Many echoes of Tristan in the music.
Maybe this work can salvage Wagners reputation from his foolish writings and beliefs. It reminds me of that philosophy in Die Frau Ohne Schatten by Strauss- of a redeeming human kindness. Parsifal has an anti war, good deeds, Christian message. The message is particularly effective in Parsifals and Kundrys dialogues on desire vrs. purity and redemption (as if the two had to be opposed- I dont think they necessarily are- maybe they were in Wagners character) or in the 3rd Act where P sheds his armor. Christianity has inspired many great works of art- this is surely one of the greatest. It is one of the greatest spiritual operas. We are all seekers- Amfortas, Titurel, Gurnemance, Kundry especially, even Klingsor. I too wish to baptize Kundry in a field of flowers- yes, (or to have my feet washed by her!); I have no doubt we all SHALL be forgiven! Although some, like Hitler, maybe should not be forgiven for an awfully long time!
For that matter, if you wanted to listen to a Symphony by Wagner- other than the operas exerpted (there were a couple of good versions- Ring Cycles adapted for orchestra), you need go no further than Dvorak's 3rd Symphony- this work could have been written by W, it resonates with his themes, it seems like a sequel- and D must have immersed himself in W's music.
I note, ironically (my favorite way of noting) that Wagner has copied Mendelssohn in the opening to "Das Rhinegold". Listen to the beginning of M's "Overture to Fair Melusina", you hear the same spiraling up major chord- representing the same swimming through billowing waters.Having just watched the tony palmer movie re w, my thots- w best appreciated by fellow composer or poet
Stravinski seems, to me, to be posing when he calls himself an inventor of music and tries to claim that he's not emotionally involved so much, he seems to be "putting us on" but there's a degree of truth to it. It is an idea that stands as a good tonic to Wagner and romantic lushness. He definitely loves the game of it, the math in his compositions. As with Bach there's plenty of emotion in the dryest material, to me, even the "Art of the Fugue", even "Threni". "Threni" is , along w Berg's "Altenberg Lieder", the two most appealing atonal works. Occasionally I wld break out my "Threni" tape and score and try to make sense of the more abstruse, arcane choruses!
I love that secco, dry feeling in Stravinsky's works, the later the more. It borders on parody, and yet he manages to make it sound grand after all. S started out under Rimski's guidance with the rich romantic palette and many of its conventions of grandeur, but through the great ballet works of "Firebird" and "Petrouchka" he shows more and more rebellion towards the Wagner/Strauss/Mahler axis) until he arrives at the neo-classicism of "Symphony of Psalms" and "Oedipus Rex", and then he moves beyond that to works like "Threni, Mass and Requiem Canticles".. "Threni" is a piece I can keep listening to- to learn something from- like Berg's "Altenberg Lieder"- it is tantalizing- atonal- yet...yet...you keep hoping for a break thru of light- but it never comes- but it's ok.
In the second movement of the "Symphony of Psalms", Stravinski is imitates a Bach fugue. This might be one of the best introductions to modern music to someone who does not like it. It shows non traditional harmonies in a very traditional form. Bach would definitely applaud.
Incidentally, did you know there is a 20th century work entitled "
The "Mass" reminds me of diaphanous wings slowly flapping, perhaps those of a butterfly upon a flower, transparent panes, see-through panes, stained glass (what's the word for the segments). This is music striving for simplicity and clarity.
In the Kultur film on Stravinski entitled "At a border", he compares himself to an insect, he is very, very "patient", he says, he knows very well how to wait. As reported in the Robert Craft reminiscences about S, there are many witticisms (by Craft, Stravinski and Auden). One of my favorites: Igor is in Rome and the Pope calls to invite him to an audience and he says he has nothing to wear and the secretary says "Come as you are" and S replies "I R in my pajamas" (S, Auden and Craft are full of these Oscar Wildean, trenchant witticisms and observations). It makes me want to have been there with them and I have tried to talk like that all the time my own self, with a good deal less wit.
There is a fabulous photo of Stravinski nude on a little dock next to a little pond or river with some rushes across which a cow benignly grazes. His dick hangs proudly out! (Is this only photo we have of a famous composer in the nude?) S is very macho/proud of his physique. This guy may look like a bespectacled nerd in most of his photos; in this one he sets the record straight!
I get a kick out of Prokofiev's comment about Stravinski- that he is "Bach with the wrong notes". Very funny- NOT. Apparently P did not think highly of S when he switched out of the Firebird and Petrouchka phases- it's odd to me how men of genius must be petty and "dis" their contemporaries; there are so few great composers at a given time anyway? It seems especially petty. Maybe P was jealous because he did not leave
I like to think that Stravinsky composed the last movement of his Requiem Canticles with the ending of Les Noces in mind. They sound very similar. I like to think that, the last movement of the Canticles, which was played at Ss funeral service, was intentionally valedictory- he meant it as a hymn to his wife, the eternal feminine, just as the groom sings at the end of Noces. These two bits both deserve the directions, laissez vibrez, or, as in Scriabin- radiantly, luminously, brilliantly ringing out!
Balanchine: This music- to play- (Apollon)- would have been impossible to play during Diaghalevs time .now people whistle it in the streets
Stravinsky: Not always. Maybe in the bathroom, where they think they are absolutely safe.
Balanchine: Yes, nobody can overhear them in the bathroom.
Stravinsky: Drink some more, lets get drunk.
I wonder what B was thinking suggesting that people whistle Apollon on the streets? There is also the priceless Stravinsky reply to Diaghalev, who, having S play for him the beginning to the "Rite of Spring" says, how long does it go on?
S: "Until the end, my dear"- which S adds, he understood. This is , outside of Wilde, the wittiest remark I have ever heard. I am always striving to achieve one similar.
Chopin- the one photograph:
Sinking into self:
"Can't touch this"
The George Sand Prince Karol in
"Lucrezia Floriani" and
We all know who it is.
And who cld blame him.
What is there to say? Like Stravinski- he creates a new world. Preludes without fugues? Etudes that unlock/surpass boundaries? the photograph of Chopin- he says piss on you, piss on the world; Chopin may have been the only artist entitled to b an anarchist- (not a right winger)- in that he believed only in his own genius and would have scoffed at the masses- his favorite colors- GREEN AND GREY- C delineates shades of grey- but he adds flashes of sheeny green!
Is it possible that C quotes himself as a valedictory in the Prelude Op.45- at the end quoting the cascading figures in the Etude in E Maj., Op 10 #3? Not likely- in my opinion- becuz- C is too pure to EVER quote himself. The temptation is there to see it- but it's more like a FANTASTIC echo. Chopin along w Bach- the most demanding of self!
I get around to reading the George Sand, Lucrezia Floriani to learn more about C. She wisely writes: "Of all angers, of all vengeances, the darkest, the most atrocious and the most agonizing is the one which remains cold and polite. When you will see a person master himself (in her day she didn't need to say "or herself"- note by de) to that degree, say if you wish that he is great and strong, but never say that he is tender and good. I prefer the coarseness of the jealous peasant who beats his wife to the dignity of the prince who rends his mistress' heart without turning a hair. I prefer the child who scratches and bites to the one who sulks in silence. By all means let us lose our tempers, be violent, ill bred, let us insult one another, break moirrors and clocks."
and, "But as he was above all polite and reserved no one ever had the slightest suspicion of what was happening inside him. The more exasperated he was the colder he appeared, and no one could only judge of the degree of his fury by that of his icy courtesy. It was then that he was truly intolerable because he insisted on arguing and submitting the realities of life, of which he knew nothing, to principles which he could not define. And then he brought wit into play, in order to torture those whom he loved. He seemed to be biting very gently, for sheer pleasure, and the wound he was making went deeper and deeper into one's soul. Alternatively, if he had not the courage to contradict and mock, he withdrew into a scornful silence, which rent his victim's heart. Everything seemed alien and indifferent to him. He stood aside from all things, all people, all opinions and ideas. The words he used were "I don't understand that" and when he gave this replay to the kindly conversational attempts to distract him, one could be sure that he thoroughly despised everything one had said and could possibly say."Prince Karol is obviously Chopin, altho Chopin said this was a work of fiction- as did G Sand, and C's friends were not pleased w this portrait- but when I see the photograph of C now, I think of it differently- we see not only a sick man but a bitter one- and C was probably an "asshole".
bosendorfer, steinway, fazioli?,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: F. Chopin - 24 Etudes for Piano Op.10 , Op 25 (DVD)Ms Lisitsa's etudes are inspiring- the Bosendorfer? having been inducted into the Hewitt army of Fazioli- I can only say- Bosen dorfer, Steinway (there are other brands also) - if Ms Lisitsa chooses you- be glad-
Love to hear these on a Fazioli, that' s all.
As to the composition- may I say that- along w the Goldberg and the WTC- it is hard to comprehend- for me- such genius!! Along w the Preludes (which are Etudes, after all) - if I could spk w Chopin I wld ask- did u know, yrself? how great these are- did u set out to conquer B? What did you think composing them as to how great they would be?
to which he might say:
dear boy- I set out to accompany B- did I succeed?
Dear boy- the wind over graves at night is as impartial as I- one suits oneself in composing- and I have always had high standards.
the Liszt song transcriptions- ut most fabulosity- not to b missed
on 4/9 a wonderful lecture and demonstration at Johns Hopkins University's Shriver Hall by concert pianist Brian Ganz on Chopin- he has recently edited the "Preludes" for Schirmer's; he plays and discusses in depth- the tonalities, changes in key, the "Preludes" as miniatures- what is left out, how C explores in the "Preludes" differently than in the "Etudes"
Ravel is a perfectionist in the manner of Chopin; but a kinder, gentler, less rigid Chopin...or no? Was it not R who said, "All of life's pleasure consists of getting a little closer to perfection- of better expressing life's mysterious thrill". Ravel is the wittiest of composers, positively Wildean in his remarks. Another word that comes to mind re Ravel?- warmth.
My favorite R pieces: "Anne at the Espinette" and the other Marot piece has such wonderful words!, the other "Pavanne" (not the one for the defunct princess), "Joyeux de Noel" the song about the Christmas tree and its ornaments (like the "Anne" a music box imitation), the song about the little cricket, "Sainte" and of course, "Daphnis and Chloe". One version I had of it on RCA Victor- w Charles Munch and Robert Shaw is marvelous. I suppose "Daphnis" is R's biggest work (along w "La Valse")- and a stupendous work it is. It is also, in that it has various bars for chorus- R's "B Minor Mass" (he didn't write much for chorus). The chorus and the end that leads to a shout (12345 beats- after Rimskys Scherezade- simulating a kind of orgasmic ecstasy- how may kinds can there be?)- which is of pirates and nymphs is dropped in at just the right moments (like the end), for perfect coloration- R's sublime/supreme orchestration.
Ravel is wittier than even Stravinski- and that's saying something! He remarks on the "Habanera": It's badly orchestrated" in that "the orchestra's too large for the number of bars", or, of the lady who shouted "Rubbish" over the applause at a premiere of the "Bolero" that "old lady got the message", or "I've written only one masterpiece - "Bolero". Unfortunately, there's no music in it", (reminiscence of Honegger) or, again of "Bolero", the conductor Paul Paray "remembered taking R to the casino at
Ravel on composition. "The true artist is primarily concerned with seeking not only his own self, but also the true expression of it" in a reminiscence by Frank Martin. And, from Vaughn Williams, "'Complexe mais pas complique' was his motto."
Other notable R remarks: after his brain injury as he awaits death he says on his balcony (and I have stood on this same b) : "J'attend"- I am waiting. In a very fine video "Ravel" bt Bullfrog films involving Charles Dutoit and many other Canadien artists, one of the persons interviewed who knew R comments that this meant he is waiting to compose again or waiting death. R's comments to Manuel Rosenthal who asked him what he though was great in his more youthful works: "Scherezade"-"there is something in that composition that I have never found again"- a very tantalizing remark- what was the "something"?
I think of the fabulous poetry in the "Asie" section of "Scherezade", (the poet was ?): "Later I'd return home to recall my adventures to those interested in dreams". Exactly what I WOULD LIKE TO DO/ WOULD LIKE TO ACCOMPLISH IN POETRY OR PHOTOGRAPHY OR BOTH!!
I note R's similarity to his mother in a photo and how great an influence she is on him- are most great creators so influenced? It seems so. The father is a superfluous figure- he might as well disappear.
Ravel says of the "Scheherazade", "there is something in this composition that I never found again." I love the line: "and later I'd return home and recount my adventures to those interested in dreams". There is something magnificent in this statement- something all artists wish to do.
Jeanne dArc, Rs opera which, after his brain injury, he can hear in his head but NOT WRITE DOWN! Honnegger's fab "Jean of Arc at the Stake" makes a wonderful substitute- albeit a bit more advanced harmonically- if we can call any one advanced in harmony beside Ravel Marin Alsop; did a great vewrsion here in Baltimore,
Ravel is moving up in my brain listing of the greatest- listen and watch 2 versions of "Jeu d'eau" (on youtube)- Richter's and Argerich's: Richter's is pearly and brisque- utterly fabulous- but... A's is better- she know how to rubato- how to slow down- sheer genius-in both I notice the cross hand and filigree work- influence of Rimsky Korsakov-A starts off more stately, her stop after the slowest walk- it shows you the difference between ultra great and ultra ultra great! (and I played R's piano)!
dave at Montfort d'Amaury- Ravel's mahoganny inlaid Pleyel (am I in Paradise yet?)
Ravel's toccata fromn "Tombeau de Couperin"?- I shove this in front of any pianist- I say, would like you to play this. Play it fast but distinguish between the notes- would you mind? I see the pianist's face blanche! Did R write this on the piano above? What was he thinking?!?!?!
And while were on the subject of warmth, let me mention Iberts Escales, Debusseys Childrens Corner and de Fallas Nights in the Gardens of Spain- Albeniz and de Falla piano works.
a more together Schumann
the one variation in the Paganinni Var.- foreshadows Rachmaninoff's famous 18th in his own Paganinni
One listens to Brahms symphonies and I think- here is a guy who has it together. Fiendishly clever- as in the theme and variations at the end of #4- a guy who did not need to toot his own horn like Wagner, B undoubtedly felt secure in his genius- unlike Schumann- and it shows.
I loved his opera, "Die Frau ohne Schatten", a work of magic that reminded me of Rimski's operas. The harmonies in "Die Frau" are delicious- I particularly liked that chord he gives the "talisman" and the choruses of the unborn children and the falcon's cries. L. Botstein writes "the oft repeated notion that the meaning of "Die Frau", which Strauss (without cynicism or irony) regarded as his finest opera eluded S to the detriment of the final artistic result is implausible". I saw "Die Frau" under Christian Thielemann at the Metropolitan Opera on 12/27/2001. In the playbill, Andrew Porter writes "it is the most beautiful, the richest and greatest of Strauss' operas" and quotes William Mann "Die Frau is the most pretentious of all these Strauss-Hofmannsthal operas; it is perhaps the most pretentious in operatic history. And yet it is possibly the most moving and beautiful of them all". Well, there's always Korngold's "Heliane"? The sets of this production used the Met's capabilities to their fullest- at the end I felt that the set (designed by Herbert Wernicke), along with the orchestra had been like another character in the opera; the production was splenderiferous- it had everything. The slanting floor and mirrored walls were effective, the broken falcon was effective- the changeovers from the ethereal upper world to the base lower, etc. etc. I had just seen "Harry Potter" and the "Lord of the Rings" at the movies and could not help but see this opera as close to a movie- it was so magical and fantastic and visual. And THEN there was the music!!! Thielemann took the first Act almost ponderously slow (compared to my Vienna Opera version under Bohm which whicked along) but T's made sense given the beauty of the music, and the tempo was completely justified in the 2nd and 3rd acts- where the propulsion of the music made all seem fast enough- unless he actually sped it up there. The 3rd Act seems to teeter on boring, it goes on so saccharinely re marriage and children; it reminded me a lot of Mahler's 8th at the end and the heavenly chorus bit in the Berlioz "Faust" thankfully, here, Marguerite was not betrayed or dead and Strauss seems to revel in the fact.
Sir George Solti leads another, magisterial version-Salzburg summer festival, 1992- which is on dvd-- Cheryl Studer as die Kaiserin- a champagne voice- most individual since Theresa Stich-Randall- imaginative staging except the falke is rather static contrasted to the one in the Met version I saw which was quite wounded as it flopped across the stage- I can identify w mine rote falke in that my totem bird is the cardinal, another red bird. The third Act seems to get just too smarmy schlocky and cliched- keep em barefoot and pregnant- one yearns for some Wozzeck touches, some womens liberation- quartet at the end almost worthy of Lawrence Welk? yet and still as the black folks say
Great lines from Die Frau: Husbands and wives who lie in each others arms, you are the bridge over the abyss where the dead cross and return to life- blessed be the work of your love! Hear! Hear! The light glides through your body the threshhold- the gate opens to death- wife and husband within me, before me A Navahoe concept?-
You couldn't really call it an aria: where John sings in "Salome" of the One (Jesus) who is coming and how he is talking to his disciples on the sea of Galilee; his voice rising and sinking as if in mighty currents against the great rock ledges of a continental shelf- Strauss' shifting harmonies, gesturing this way and then that. And of course, give her her due, Salome gets the same mighty moments of beauty as she squirms through her depravities. But Strauss has given John, in the harmonies, a purity made all the stronger in the context of the slime of the Tetrarch's court and of Salome's desires. She will have John one way or the other!
This work strikes me, at times, as a great paean to woman power, even though Salome's actions are dreadful, they take place in a universe of no morals and she seems the victor, one wishes to wallow in her successful revenge. Why won't John kiss her lips. He wants to, as she says. Of course he wants to, were he human. But no, he is an inhuman prophet of the lord's. And shouldn't he then, really, pay the price? But in the end, Herod squashes Salome like a bug, he who will late send Jesus to the cross. What a guy.
Like Rimski and Ravel, Strauss was one of the "positive" composers. Like Ravel- S made some wonderful and trenchant quotes: to Hindemith: "Why do you compose like that? You have talent", or, he calls Schoenberg and Krenek's music "goat dung" or, "Declarations about things concerning war and politics are not fitting for an artist" ( this belongs with my essay "Manifesto # 9?). (Botstein calls S politically "thoughtless"- "contemptuous" and calls S an "egotist, as Hofmannsthal noted with acuity, actually an anarchist", or, "Conduct "Salome" and "Electra" as if they were fairy music by Mendelssohn". Strauss had been one of my father's favorite composers- pop was forever playing "Death and Transfiguration" or "Til Eugenspiel" or Heldenleben.
Botstein again: "Adorno's conception of S's aesthetics and musical language relegated them to the position of a regressive historical and ethical force" (but what about the beauty of his music?), and "S evidenced the evil of the historical moment and society in which he flourished" in which the "seemingly rational and beautiful" (but S IS rational and beautiful!! He does not SEEM tht way) "in culture became the handmaiden of oppression, commercial exploitation, domination and false consciousness in late-capitalist bourgeois society". Strauss was somewhat apolitical however and cannot be blamed too harshly, I think. Yes, it would have been nice for him to sign a petition or two- or been forced to write an Auschwitz Requiem and what of Rachmaninoff? In Kennedy S is quoted: "I did not want the war, it is nothing to do w me" to which Schiele replies "Other heads than yours have already rolled, Herr Doktor Strauss". May we absolve S, denazify him? I think so. The thought of the sight of S "stopping his car at Theresienstadt, went to the gate and announced, 'My name is Richard Strauss, I want to see Frau Neumann.' The guards thought he was a madman and told him to clear off. Others of Alice's (his daughter in law) relatives were taken to the
Adorno- a pathetic critic- One is led, eventually, to Adorno if one loves music. It's a natural- he loves Berg, so do I, but one is disappointed upon reading him to find him almost a charlatan- he writes with so much jargon and convolution, and downright wrongheadedness that he becomes dismissable: e.g. poo-pooing Hindemith and Sibelius; writing so much about Schoenberg with no recognition that the 12 tone Schoenberg seems to have forgotten beauty and bcome boring (was it old age?). As an explorer, the 12 tone Schoenberg is fine but otherwise? Witness the following horrible example of A's prose in English: "It recoins in counterfeit the destructive law of society itself- of absolute power, that is- as the constructive law of authenticity. The farewell trick of Stravinsky- who otherwise, in an elegant gesture, renounced everything astonishing- is the enthroning of the self-forgotten negative as the self-conscious positive. Stravinsky's entire work had this maneuver as its goal"- and so one from the Philosophy of Modern Music.
Adorno has, to use a word like the ones he does, redacted, or coined a complete scam, veiling little content in a mass of crap! The only usefulness of A re music are his reminiscences of Berg, with whom he studied. There one gets glimpses of a master- and wonders how such a master could have tolerated such a fawning , asshole, tru du cul, connard, factotum as A? Sad....
Adorno shows in his essay on R. Strauss that he did not comprehend beauty, that he had tin or no ears. If Adorno wrote in his obscure style to be deliberately challenging, why then I refuse the challenge. Why bother?
"Death and Tranfiguration" like Rachmaninoff's "Isle of the Dead".
I keep returning to Alban Berg as one of my very favorite 20th cent. composers (at least one that did NOT compromise with beauty in the tonal sense)- the 5 songs for orchestra, the Violin Concerto (if you consider Rachmaninoff a 19th Century composer). For a while I couldn't find my score to the "Altenberg Lieder" until I realized that I had filed it away under music to be played at my funeral- the second one on the "gewettenritter" which, along with Wozzeck's "aria" "Wir arme leute", I liked so much. But usually when I listen to Berg I can only take it for so long. It makes me want to get my Stavinsky out. a humorous thought- why aren't there any piano reductions of Berg- say of the Violin Concerto? Maybe all of Bergs music would be better unfinished- like Lulu. It gets, I wouldnt say boring, but uninteresting so fast!
Here I go ranking again. Isn't "Wozzeck" (or is it Lulu?) the 20th century's greatest opera? The melodies get so close to tonality and sometimes even break through. W is a political work- altho yes it is understated. The sympathy is with the underdog; if only he could have broke though with an aria praising Rosa Luxembourg or Karl Liebknecht- or would that have been too much like using tonality? Music must not be afraid to state obvious truths! signed, Comrade Dave... Berg's choice of librettos is so spot on- "Wozzeck" and "Lulu"- wow- how could he have been so prescient? I have managed to listen to the whole first act of Lulu and watch it on the DVD I have. Awesome. A commanding work. Riches piled upon riches. The situations and emotions B deals w- they are my own. Who else has delved into this seamier side (Bartok in Bluebeards Castle and Janacek, and Weil). In my dvd a singer is interviewed and says about completing the work, The explanation of a mystery is always bad.
Some gems from Luluare: L- Would you do up my dress? Schoen: This isnt a game, its life! artist: Would you mind showing a little more leg? Dont mew and prance to hide the true nature of womanhood-who says this? - its so pretentious (who knows the true nature of womanhood? Certainly its NOT Lulu); the doorbell rings: It might be my dealer. It might be the Emperor of China. Then Leave me out of your game, You wore a dark blue dress, I had more regard for you than my ailing mother, I arranged your marriage, not once, but twice. Bergs methods enrich music. Other 12 tone people I have liked? Druckman, Phillipot, Lutowslowski (sp.) (and is he 12 tone?), Boulez.
Gems of statement from Pierre Boulez in a dvd of his rehearsing/conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in Bs Three Pieces for Orchestra. The orchestra is plainly rebellious, disinterested in the music or else they are not very skilled for they flub up terribly in many areas- the flutes, the trumpets, the cellos. In their favor, Boulez points out that it is difficult for the musicians to hear what the balance is supposed to be. Even so, this rehearsal brings forth powerful and mysterious music- entrancing. Boulez comments: Thats the magic of the thing- but thats the difficulty of the magic, and, You have to establish all these levels, and Thats not a defect uh thats like that- speaking of the 3 movements as not too much like a symphony- the last being so extended. Boulez talks about how B needs polyphony- thats not just chords- its chords with voices, interior voices the great thing about polyphony is the iner voices- Schumann, Chopin, Rachmaninoff knew this ; I hear so many echoing voices, motifs that are, as Boulez says unimportant in one part becoming important in another, that it almost drives me crazy.
Berg was a student of Schoenberg who DID something with his teacher's "dodecaphonic"-serial-12 tone, the whole whatchemecallit mess/method. Berg at least refers to keys and tonality, although sometimes he strays rather far. I love Berg's harmonies. The word "lurking" seems so right to describe them. They "lurk" near tonality. The music of Berg, are there any cheerful parts? It all seems grim- yes there is ironic joking and sarcasm. Berg's music reminds me of a bit in that horror film "The Omen" where the boy falls through the ice and then tries to come up and find an air hole but he cannot- the music sort of comes up under ice and is constantly, horribly drowning, unable to breathe- it is all nerves, it never relaxes- it reflects the "age of anxiety". In Schoenberg is there, somehow, a lack of sincerity?
There is pure beauty in the second Altenberg lieder- the one to the woman about how she too needs a rain storm- sexual implications- a sly, lovely, joking that, unlike most B, one does not have to take too seriously- about as close as he comes to humor? The Altenberg Lieder- they dobreathe.
I really would love to know how B heard the music he was composing- this would be one of my first questions in heaven- if only there was one- this after I had spent a week talking to Bach.
I like the Schoenbergs Gurrelieder and piano concerto and Opus 25 suite well enough. The other piano pieces just dont seem beautiful enough. But I appreciate what he was trying to do: S commented on Webern, One must consider the restraint that is necessary in order to express oneself so succinctly. Every glance can be expanded into a poem, every sigh into a novel. But to express a novel with a single gesture, happiness in a single exhalation: such concentration can only be found where wistfulness is sufficiently absent. I keep giving Schoenberg a try. The Op. 11 and 19 piano pieces- one has to gets ones narrative or sense of direction from the patterns- not the harmonies- thin gruel- parsimonious (note Schoenberg in most photos appears to be scowling). Lets turn to a more sunny, generous composeer (sic).
Berg, by sticking to this atonal formula- as thoughout "Lulu" seens too- what is the word (besides "boring") too negative, sour, annoying! I think if he had switched to a Korngoldian, Leharian tonality half way through- we could not deny his genius....as it is- he seems STUCK!
I entered my Korngold phase later in life in the mid nineties, initially spurred on by hearing "Die Todestadt" and
K puts me in mind of the painter- Klimt. He has that bespangled richness, that gold- Hudertwasser also.
K's opera "Violanta" is maybe as great as "Die Todtstadt"- another neglected masterpiece. The Ring of Polycrates also VERY good. Have yet to hear Die Kathrin.
K's failure to be taken seriously was another instance of the supremacy of the negato lords in my century. How annoying. Carping critics carried the day, critics like K's very own father Julius, persons who had NO ability to create, only to postulate! Many critics through the 50's and 60's poo pooed K as a mere movie composer.
I obtained an autograph of Erich's in '99, strangely signed "Professor" EWK. Mr. Cranmer of La Scala autographs explained to me that this was not unusual for Viennese intellectuals.
Just as I was pleased to find antecedents to Rachmaninoff in Rimsky, especially the "Antar" symphonic tone poem so was I pleased to find that Korngold, it is obvious in his earliest piano music: "Schneeman", "Don Qixote", "Fairy Pictures" and the Sonatas, had taken Schumann, the Schumann of "Kinderszenen" for his master. In music, a good thing will be studied and replicated and built upon, just as Mendelssohn follows Bach in "
Great movie director's setting of the Thomas Mann novella entitled "Death in Venice" ; .. a musical score that sink and sinks- the composer in the movie booed in Vienna . I would be an artist like Von Aschenbach at the end of my life . It's 1911- I'm staying at the Hotel de Bains on the Lido in Venice- soon to be carried by gondola to that isle cemetery w the cedars as was Stravinski; for now my wife - the gibson girl w a hat w the feathers on the beach w her friend both in flowing, long white linen - with white parasols- the cobalt blue sea behind them as in Sorolla paintings....the sheer white dresses, the sand Florida white- the sea blue as the calenques near Marseille and Cassis - the way Mahler draws from Wagner and Wagner also in Venice- the silhouette of a young girl on the beach- "you must come out of the sea there is lightning" or, "the plague has reached Venice from the east....the silhouette of the young boy...all is not lost- all this set to Mahler's "Adagietta"...
In the wonderful video on P- Prodigal Son, he is quoted: Whatever is done, it must be done well. Precision is a sense of real insight. Depression is a lie of the mortal mind. Consequently, it cannot have power over me, because I am the expression of life- divine activity. I am the effect of one great cause and this alone gives me the power to ignore everything that does not proceed from the cause. I use my time perfectly. I perfectly express beautiful things. My vigor and vitality can be traced back to its source- infinite life, as I am able to go back to the sources of my creativity I am in harmony with whatever the future has in store for me.
No one has expressed the state of mania better than P in The Fiery Angel. As has no one depression than Styron in Darkness Visible.
Person in audience after hearing a performance of the 3rd Piano Concerto: did you just hear what I heard? Now that- that is the way critics should be. The 3rd is a phenomenal work- like the Rachmaninoff 3. P differs from my beloved R, in that he is spikier, more acerbic, in a way hits more notes- wider emotional range- is more avant, Stravinskian. Much of the filigree is similar. P says intonation is the foundatin of melody where R might be saying melody is the foundation of melody. Both are powerful composers. Note reactions to exile? R is mourngul, P says that living abroad is bad for us Russians- he misses the speech patterns- talks about socialists being fighters against the weak, silly and over refined music- could he be referring to R? But P is somehow an extension of R. Shostakovich says of him, dismissively, that he is a national composer and Nabokov comments interestingly that he is like a big baby bawling. P says, any government that lets me in is all right by me. Was he a lap dog, a running dog? Reception in
I had seen The Fiery Angel, The Gamblers and War and Peace at the Met in N.Y. Fiery Angel a favorite work- many themes with which I can identify. Renate the liberated woman?
o yes, Sibelius- all that brooding, the brooding! the Tapiola?, the winds rushing though the forest- the similarities to my beloved Rachmaninoff?
An Exchange on Ben Brittens Billy Budd- D E and Barbara Spilka;
It takes several listenings till you can hear all the very beautiful melodies in Billy Budd. As for the politics, well, I can understand your not being able to stand them; I feel the same way about Schumann's "Frauenliebe und Leben". Being female, however, Billy Budd simply strikes me as a period piece, so I have no trouble accepting the story. You seem to be quarrelling with the author of the story, wanting him to have written a different story. But that is the way it was on board a ship in that time period. Rights of man was, as yet, still an idea, not a reality. And, as you note, a "dangerous" idea if you subscribed to the standard political thinking of that time.
Sam Ramey is pretty wobbly these days (of course, he has always sounded that way to me, but obviously other people think he is great), so it's too bad they cast him as Claggart. And you are absolutely right about the steel needed for Claggart. Indeed, one needs a good Vere, Budd, and Claggart for the piece to work. Of course, you also need a good chorus. It's an ensemble opera. When done properly, it is a very moving piece of theater.
The Met has an absolutely stunning production, and they've been pretty good about only doing it when they can cast it properly. When it was new, we had Sir Peter Pears, Richard Stilwell, and James Morris in the three principal roles, and it was David Stivender's Met chorus, which was the best opera chorus in the world at the time. Needless to say, later casts have not been quite so good, though I will always go if Morris is singing Claggart, as he is probably the best Claggart ever to do the role, and it is still the best role I've ever seen him do.
But don't give up on it yet. You really do need to hear the music more times.
Dear Barbara (from Dave)
Went to see the Washington Opera production on 7/27. Disappointed. After participating in the great Britten choral works- "Spring Symphony" and "War Requiem"- I have to say re BB- a noble try. It struck me as a severe work, fabulously staged, but ruined in the end by mediocre music and a pathetic libretto.But I think I may warm to it. There is a lot of the ocean in it.
You, I kno, are more in touch w the singing. Monday- BB had a cold and still sounded pretty good (his dying aria really, literally "died"- Ramey as Claggett was awfully wobbly to my ears. Had he been steely- he might have drawn me in. Heroes to me were the members of the chorus.
My problems- not that you asked- the libretto seemed simperingly imperialistic-so bad that it got in the way- Britten set great poetry in the other choral works- here his writers are in need of a leftist slant- for Vere is a fellow travelling imperialist to Claggett's Bush like evil and the writers NEVER ARE AWARE OF IT. Billy leaves the "Rights of Man" ship, then is killed by Vere who says I could have saved him. Why didn't he?!?!? Vere becomes Claggett's comrade in war- and yet at the end- he and Billy are "content" because they see some far off sail disappearing into the sunset. Give me a break. Britten had an opportunity here but did not rise to the occasion. Why?
Supposedly they need the mist to clear and some guidance of moral clarity? Yet the clarity is obvious to me. (I wish the seamen overthrew the officers at the end- but Britten tries to make a "happy ending" despite the success of the British monarchy and its puling ruling class and enforcers). Maybe World War II dictated to B that he praise the King?
All this could, as in so many operas, have been saved by good music (and you know I am interested in the harmonies), but....Britten's music meandered in a mediocre fashion- all over the map- in the end very tedious and boring. Britten's usual acerbically pointed writing ("Peter Grimes" has thinned out into a pablum. Whatever did he have in mind? I think that, were I able to interview him, he'd admit it. I'd have to listen to more of his works- hopefully he was just "having a bad day".
Living Composer Series
On 9/26 I attend the first in a series of conversations w composers at the Theatre Project- at this one Maestra Marin Alsop introduces John Adams. It is a wonderful talk and my off the wall questions are answered amusingly- I cite Tolstoys remark about Rachmaninoff- How well he understands silence and also the Henze Requiem and ask for comments- both Alsop and Adams seem prejudice against Henze. At one point in their presentation, the say how glad they are to be in
I have taken beautiful cards and drawn staves- a treble and a bass clef- in them and I am getting each composer to sign- an autograph and possibly some notes! These cards will be worth something some day.
Also it is at the Theatre Project lobby that I notice a wonderful artist- Lisa Rigby- who is in her last year at the Maryland Institute College of Art. I later purchase one of her works- Snow in
The second in this series brings up Chinese composer, Tan Dun. He seems most articulate and I get to ask him, Can music be political- I think of Beethovens 9th, Bob Marley, John Lennon, Brecht and Weill is it possible for music to serve the people. He replies that he loves rock and roll, that, writing in memory of Tiannemin (sp?) Sq. brought to his mind the midevil Chinese classic play Snow in June in which the heroine is rescued in some way by the tears (the snow) of the gods. That is to say- indirectly, yes, music does play a role- just the answer I hoped for. He tells me after that this was a brilliant question.
The third conversation takes place at the Theatre Project on 10/17 w H K Gruber, from
Speaking of horror music, I try to get his comment on Isle of the Dead, Bernard Herrmans Vertigo, Hans Zimmers score to The Ring the most horrifying score, to me, I state, is Schumanns Violin Concerto- a work by a composer reaching for his previous, inspired self, a broken work, trying so hard to reassemble the pices as S goes mad- now- THATs horrifying. He is not familiar w it but discusses Schumanns attepts to make something new and different-.
He inscribes my card- I am getting one for each composer and hoping they will fill in my staves w a musical autograph- with notes and the words, "follow me, my little rat" probably from that same opera he did at Aspen. If Gruber is as cool a composer as he is a person- I must get something by him!
# 4 is Alan Jay Kernis- Marin accompanies and I get both of their autographs. I ask my standard question, I can imagine Brahms and Mahler hearing every strand of a compolsition in their heads, but I get to Berg and I wonder- did he just do a moosh and hope it went in the right direction- say the 3 Orchestral Pieces? As usual, neither answers the ?; Ms. Alsop says- Its a different language, and Kernis: I think he was aware of the balance- something vague like that. Kernis reminds of Bernstein and Copland- clearly talented.
5. Mark OConnor- I do not ask my boiler plate question about whether Berg could hear all the pitches in sections of the �� Pieces for Orchestra but simply- would he play one of the pieces he won all the contests with. Marin is with him.
6, Steven Mackey-Marin accompanies again. Then respond to a question from me at length. Mackey teaches at
7. Chris Rouse lives right here in Baltimore- I get his email and hope to go over- as he is an avid collector. In response to my Alban Berg question he imagines that Berg may have heard a percentage of the music and just winged it on the rest. I should have written down our discussion right after it happened as I have now forgotten most of it. Marin makes fun of my earnestness- that I am bound and determined to find out an answer to the Berg question. I ask him has
8. James MacMillan- His feeling is that Berg probably DID hear it all! He is a Catholic and has written one choral piece in memory of one of the witches killed in
I buy Ms Isobel Godie piece, his Mass, his �� Last Words. Very impressive and worthwhile.
9. John Corigliano- Perhaps, along with John Adams and Wm. Bolcom, the most played and known and respected of American composers- he speaks of his childhood in Brooklyn and loving the gunfight scene in Copland, he speaks of his New York Philharmonic violin playing father and how he waited in the green room and learned pieces, he speaks of working w Lenny (Bernstein) , of Jimmy Galway coming up to him at a cocktail party and asking, Hows my flute concerto coming along (I believe David Zinman did The Pied Piper of Hamelin), he asked Willie Schumann a question, what was it?
I ask who among living composers turns him on the most, and he mentions his friends- Kernis, other Americans. Europeans? They are a little slower getting over the Wagnerian composer as god nonsense- he says. John does not like Wagner. Should I wear a cape? Maybe an eye patch? Marin chimes in.C wants to be accessible- it is our duty to bring the audience in. I ask what he thinks of Eliot Carter? He responds, he is not my cup of tea, he likes complexity, words to that effect. But he is 100 (or thereabouts) and still composing and that says something.
The next night I hear his To Music Piano Concerto and Beethovens 3rd tonight (4/17)- Marin is conducting. Afterwards Marin hosts a discussion- some 50 + people in attendance. I ask John to take me through the Piano Concerto (a marvel) and Marin quips, wed be here all night. No, no just the first bars I say- he talks about choosing three notes to play off the percussion- and how did he choose them? Did his mom sing them to him as a child? Nothing that romantic. He gets into technicalities about relationship to ?- it sounds pretty technical. John goes on to praise Marins Eroica as the best hes heard and he speaks of Beethovens methods of composition- his drafts. There are two types of composers, he thinks- the Beethovens and the Mozarts- who just pour it out and dont revise. Willy Bolcom is a Mozart, he is a Beethoven type. He tells me he and Sam Barber were good friends. I am so proud of the Symphony- one of
I listen to Cs Symphony #1- very good- get the score and a recording of the Piano Concerto- Barry Douglas. Much Copland in it- Barber, Brahms. It, like Carter!- is complex- and yet emotional also. It breathes!
10. Thomas Ades- seems immensely eccentric, quirky, amusing, Wildean, gay- like you think a composer would/should b- my question abt. Bergs " 3 Pieces for Orchestra- he thinks, yes he probably could hear the harmonies- he was very fastidious- Lulu is one of his favorites- I tell him about the meter changes in the Beatles Hello, Goodbye- his response- they probably didnt know what they were doing -I read the Ross article about him in the New Yorker- very telling- he gives me a chord along w his autograph- b (below middle c), (dave, give rest)- what is this from?- will go to his concert tomorrow (Fr.)- violin concerto, 1 and 4 by Beeth..
Asides and Fragments
One of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conductors, Commissiona was a hard conductor to follow for us members of the chorus (he tended to dance more than conduct), but his programming was interesting. The "Lobegesang" is a wonderful choral piece, full of positive statements and refererences to Bach. It even has "waffen des lichts", weapons of light!!
Druckman- Summer Lightening, Portmans opera The Little Prince, organ sonata by Phillipot, organ work by Jolivet, Casellas Ricercare on the Name of Bach, Syzmanowskis (sp.) (I think it was his) transcription of Strausss An Artists Life.
Glenn Gould's marvelously slow "Siegfried Idyl" for a small ensemble and also he plays it exceedingly slowly on the piano. It was one of his last recordings.
the harmonies in the Puccini aria "Nessun Dorma" from "Turandot", from afar, a tiredness I almost associate with old age, a golden, autumnal sort of harmony, Mahler tries for it in "Songs from the Earth" the one about the traveler in the sere frost covered autumn landscape...the silver leaves. Also there are those last few Preludes, Nocturnes? of Chopin where the sickness, the close to death mood comes through strongly.
I think Bernt Alois Zimmerman deserves mention as a great 20th century composer. Henze I just haven't heard that much of (great politics) . Amongst living classical composers, it's not easy to pick out the greatest, easy enough to pick out the good ones. I admired John Adams alot. Druckman. Lutoslowski (now dead?) (it's 2000). Penderecki, Part. Schnittke has just died; I think his opera "Life w An Idiot" has greatness. Maybe some of the English composers- Taverner, Rutter. Andrew Lloyd Weber definitely NOT! Brel and Weil.Influence of Berlioz sprites and will o the wisps in Faust on Mendelssohn? Similarity between Midsummer Nights Dream and Janaceks Cunning Little Vixen
...how Weber influenced Schumann, or Field Chopin. Tchaikovski influenced Rachmaninoff strongly, also Rimski-Korsakov.
I love the video of the American Ballet Theatre dancing to a Balanchine choreograph to Schumann's "Davidsbundlertanze" and these are some drunken impressions: S multiple voices (the versions is Giseking) are impressive in the music; I don't mean just the two sides of his personality I mean the counterpoint of the lyrical different voices one under the other- has this been done quite the same way before? it's as if S were dialoguing w himself (then too there ARE the dramatic contrasts of his split personality- Florestan, Eusebius); is it that the music copies speech better than did prior music?; I hear imprecations, stomping, bold statements; who else does rubato as interestingly as S?
There is a wonderful video on the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo- I bought a program with many of their autographs- fab group. Also the movie on the Chicago Ballet group by the great American Director-
In December of 2000 I came across a book on Hanns Eisler. He had thought down some of the same paths as myself- music and politics, serial music and the more traditional, etc. and I hoped to get some cds of his music. His quote on modern music and the dying man and his death rattle and the mourners who fall asleep and snore is priceless.
Hans Werner Henze's autobiog. Bohemian Fifths is a wonderful book. I found Henze's "Requiem" for orchestra tantalizing the way "Threni" and "Lulu" are tantalizing.Britten's opera (is it a chamber opera?)"Death In Venice" is a wonderful, luminous, valedictory piece, brimming with beauty .that arpeggio in the piano part- Bluebeards Castle by Bartok- the lake behind the first door- must see this written down.
You know, you don't have to lament the fact that Brahms never wrote an opera- Busoni has written it (his "Faust"). This often happens- as when Elgar wrote the Oratorios that Wagner didn't. I was sad that that Wagner hadn't written more for chorus. The choral music in "Parsifal" is as close to Christian music as he gets, but then Wagner had, after all, written such music- just that it was written by Elgar in "Gerontius, The Apostles" and "The Kingdom".
a nice (but pompous- possibly untrue- sounding great) quote from Artur Rubenstein- Mr. Conviviality-"I believe strongly...if when you play to an audience- it is not just what they hear but what emanates from us...they could be sitting at home listening to an lp in their slippers- but in a hall, the personal touch makes a big difference. I sometimes feel in the audience...maybe a YOUNG GIRL (dave's emphasis for laughs), a woman, a man (he realises what he said- does not want to sound like a molester)- has nothing to do w sex- I feel suddenly that there is a person who listens best to me- much better than the others- who takes every thing in".
and Barenboim on Ruberstein- which is certainly true: "there is a 'spine' in his performances- he had little tolerance for the neurotic"
I had a special fondness for conductor, David Zinman- not only an Oberlin grad but whom I had sung under for many a year- he once commented on my chapbook "The Treee Calendar"- seems like yolu had some troubles in a relationship. so astute- just kidding- but he is a wonderful conductor! Baltimore and myself, we were lucky to have him!
sad state of classical music (7/2004): the Lacrymosa from Mozarts Mass is used for an American Standard toilet advertisement on TV-the tragedy of a toilet overflowing, also- an ad for margarine using selection one of Bachs Suites and then Grieg to sell Kelloggs Fruit Harvest cereal. I realize this music is in the public domain but really .! The pure products of America as Wm. Carlos Williams put it- demonstrate an insufferable and disgusting capitalism- its mind ever on the bottom line- continually, like absolute power, and absolutely corrupting. Makes one want to root for terrorists.Is harmony to music what color is to art? Kind of question Adorno might ask?
Lutoslowski lamented the state of modern music: "Nowadays we feel like mere mustard at the great feast of music- we would rather be some main course, some meat and potatoes"- or something to this effect.
Humor in music- there needs to be more. On 10/28/01 C and I attend a concert given by the Georgetown Symphony Orchestra with the Metropolitan Chorus in which C's brother Dave sings. The pieces are funny- Kabelevsky's "Circus Suite", and especially Haydn's "Farewell Symphony" and even more especially, PDQ Bach eter Schickele's) "Missa Hilarious"- his piano and other works. Comic music is genuinely moving- along with the pieces by Rachmaninoff which only make me cry- want John Williams' theme to the movie "Schindler's List" or Ennio Morricone's theme to "Cinema Paradiso". In a sense movie music has saved music. Out, out with the "new music" dead branch...those bleeps and blurts, the didactic sounds of dry-wasp-wings-rustling Webern. Give us Adams, Gorecki, Penderecki, Schnittke, Taverner- there are plenty of tuneful modern composers!
Boulez will only make converts of academics and rebels for the sake of rebellion- the "art is what hasn't been tried before" crowd, in my estimation. Certainly his music is not all bad in the sense that it gives real music lovers a chuckle and helps us to identify music's real direction- the real, live trunk of the tree. I don't think we'd want to listen to a whole piece of Boulez', however- like his Piano Sonata.
Schoenberg himself, in pieces like the Piano Suite Opus 25 or his Piano Concerto, where he refers to the past tonally or structurally, can be quite listenable. In fact, I found myself enjoying the completely reference-to-tonality-free Schoenberg sometimes after heavy, rich diets of my tonal favorites like de Falla, Ravel, Korngold and Rachmaninoff. Glenn Goulds and Mitsuko Uchidas recording of the Piano Concerto are both admirable.
another Letter to the Editor
New Yorker Magazine
In his Nov. 6th, 2000 article, music critic Alex Ross writes intriguingly about the composer Stravinsky: "But there is a sense of something unresolved at the heart of his astounding career", and "in certain ways his intellect was a limitation and he left the public with an image of the classical composer as a cerebral rather than a sensuous being".
But I hear references to tonal centers in even Stravinsky's late, abstract, serial compositions- "Canticum Sacrum", "Requiem Canticles" and even the most severe "Threni", and these works are sensuous to me. Of course I am a great intellect.
Yes, the composer matures and pursues new directions- but I don't think S ever left the sensuous world of the earlier works like "Firebird" and "Petrouchka". Ross's description of S tries to contain him too much. Wasn't he just growing older?
Ross's article provides a useful jumping off point for further discussion and we are grateful to him for that. But I don't hear S as heartless. One reviewer finds an early work "icy"- to me, S has just the right amount of frost.
Certainly, S's works after World War II do NOT reflect a "catastrophe". I cannot imagine S "suffering the shock of recognition that Schoenberg's music is richer in substance than his own". I can imagine the witty rejoinder he would make to such a confusing remark (and even Craft would make a witty rejoinder to it). The two were super adept, along w Auden, at making rejoinders. They loved to make them. I can hear S saying, "Substance? That's all my dear Schoenberg is, is substance!" Now there is a composer without a heart! (And I don't believe that either).
Stravinsky ws a searcher. His restlessness reminds me of the Beethoven of the late quartets. But Ross says S "never found an emotional core". Is finding an emotional core necessary? It would reside in the brain, would it not? Should all composers of the century just past be Rachmaninoffs or Korngolds (and I love these two composers). What about Ravel? Is he icy enough? Not sensuous enough? No emotional core?
Rather, does not the serial technique add spice to S's late works, in the way that Bach uses dissonance to describe war and plague (how funny it would be had I left in my misprint "plaque")- Bach's Cantata 101, "Nimm von uns". Maybe we didn't always get resolution in that century.
Anyway, I doubt if S composed w such theories in mind.
I would like to write abt the 20th century violin concerto- the Sibelius, the not too screechy Berg, the Syzmanowski with its glistening opening, the utter warmth of the Korngold, the keening Barber- the Adams. On 10/31 I hear Leila Josefowicz play the Adams...her facial expressions say it all- the seriousness with which she attacks, who have I left out?
the Berg brings to mind a found poem- a poem I found in Baltimore stenciled on the plywood on boarded up houses": "Assistance for/trapped animals/call 311", in that B's music calls to mind- a wounded animal, the pain.
Music and Politics
In 11/8/98's New York Times "Arts and Leisure" section was an admirable article on Wagner and Hitler. It's simply too simplistic to brand Wagner a Nazi. Rather, Hitler, used W to dignify his Nazi movement. It was up to us to take Wagner back from Hitler, (as odious as W was, let's not forget) for, as the article made clear, W empathized with many of his stereotypically "Jewish" characters in the operas. I tried to deal with art and politics in a little preface I had written to my diary, "Manifesto".
east German composers- Prokoviev's choral piece on Stalin, 1917 cantata or the one on building a new concrete factory?
see my bit on Trotsky and art/lit criticism in general at the end of the chapt: blue running lts.- or is it pg 2?
Music videos are a powerful new means of expression. Cathys barber, Neil, gave us a dvd of Broadway style hits and the opener, Julie Andrews singing The hills are alive with the sound of music is phenomenal. Considerable time elapses before she starts singing (the greatest music happens in context, often with a prologue), the camera pans down from gloomy snow covered
best music videos? the segments in Ken Russell's "Mahler", "Loneliness"- Harry Nilsson, "Rain"- Blind Melon, "Good Vibrations" - Beach Boys, Dylan one where he's discarding the placards, George Harrison one (what is title?), one by Lady ?- not Lady Gaga, un - one before her- Lady?. very retro w swirling lollipops, some Madonna ones, Tupac as Mad Max guy in desert, Snoop Dog, many of Beatles ones
I loved straight ahead boogie: Chuck Berry, Canned Heat, Cream, Procol Harum, The Faces, ZZ Top. I thought very highly of Steven Stills and
the very idea of Captain Beefheart, that album: "Trout Mask Replica" surrealism in our generation's was entrancing...the music? hard to swallow.
Aside on Brian Wilson: have just seen two important (for me) videos, "Beach Boys, An American Band" and "I just wasn't made for this world" on the Beach Boy, Brian Wilson. Now here was a popular composer of wasted genius. As the video, "I just wasn't made for this world," makes clear, Brian had been seriously depressed as had I. He had spent three years literally in bed! He had been once capable of spinning out new and beautiful harmonies ("Pet Sounds"). In one brief segment he is shown (improvising?) singing and playing at the piano in a fabulous manner. But, somewhat like my son, he had fried his brain on drugs. What combo had been the most lethal (probably a mixture of LSD and ? ). How much remains? Plenty, I would guess by listening to him speak, even though he speaks quite haltingly. He has aged poorly, his face twisted/mashed up as if blasted, squashed; it's the face of an ancient wino, a jail inmate/homeless bum, a washed up prize fighter. It reminds me of one of those bristlecone pines up in the California Rockies, the ones that are thousands of years old amd have undoubtedly been through a lot. I had a dream in which the precise word occurred to describe it, then I went back to sleep without writing it down and when I woke up I couldn't remember it. I know it began with a p, it was punished, pummeled, prejudiced...what? Now, '99, Brian seemed on a sort of comeback trail (in 2004- Smile- thank you Brian!!) He, along with the Beatles with their producer (was it Frank, John Martin?) were my generation's greatest pop writers.
In Feb. of 2001, I bought two Brian Wilson autographs- one for $50 of a photo of him standing on a surfboard on a big wave and another for $150! with his signature on the music to "California Girls". The signatures were significantly different and I wrote the two sellers asking why?
Of current (90's) pop performers, Neil Young, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon. I also liked Janet Jackson- her music, not her choreography. I liked rap and had even done a rap for inmates at one of their cook outs- a kind of riff with the refrain of "Colonel Saunders in the house" (they always said that I liked like Colonel Saunders- a cartoon figure on advertisements for Kentucky Fried Chicken). She once said, "We all have voices beating us up, but I have learned to act as if the voices weren't there". I saw Patti Labelle, another black diva at Artscape in
My earliest song memories- Tennessee Waltz, then, rock centered- Elvis, Little Richard, Fats Domino, "I got my thrill", then, at Mt. Hermon: Behind the Green Door with its very incredible and in the end soothing lyrics. Somewhere there was a party going on, but it wasn't at Mr. Hermon prep school!
3 rock songs: three of my favorite rock songs were political anthems of the 60's- they combined poetry w music better than any others- one) "Something in the Air" by Thunderclap Newman deserved to be THE rock song of the 60's' protest movements w such lyrics as "for the revolutions's here and you know it's right", "we have got to get it together", "break out the rounds of ammo", etc.; 2) "Hold Your Head Up" by Rod Argent, with similar uplifting and encouraging lyrics and 3) Leslie West doing Bob Dylan's tune, "This Wheel's On Fire" w poetry by Bob? whoever wrote the poetry did a wonderful job, despite the obscurity, e.g. "this wheel's on fire rolling down the road, just notify my next of kin, this wheel shall explode", and, "if your memory serves you well" you get the idea; 4) more of a cultural than political statements by the Beatles, "Why Don't We do It in the Road?", many of Lennon- "Power to the People", "Imagine", most of Bob Marley but especially "Misty Morning", "Get Up, Stand Up".
an example of genius in American rock and roll? in the Beach Boys tune- ?- where Brian Wilson comes in on the high falsetto? after- "her daddy took the t bird away"- his falsetto in general!!
many of the work by the original Faces w Rod Stewart, many by Toots Maytal - "Country Roads- West Jamaica").
Organ obliggato (piccolo stop?) in the rock song Runaway
Other popular music: I discovered Kurt Weil, George Brassen and Jacques Brel at the tender age of 63. Their songs were not only fabulously beautiful, they had something to say- unlike the American songsters, by in large. I felt a special empathy with Brel. Supposedly he told his daughter that he had never been understood? Why would he tell her that? Was it something to say? Obviously people understood him, they loved him AND his works. Brel and Brassin wrote about life like Hemingway- they were realists. Listen to what Brel has to say about love- that he cant even bring himself to use the word. Brel, Brassin- they had integrity. Unlike Frank Sinatra. American equivalents would be more Pete Seeger, or Bob Dylan, although what is Bob saying? He seems very surreal, compared to Brel/Brassin.
ESSAY 2 MUSIC GOES TO THE MOVIES
Let us go back to early movie history. Remember, when movies started back around 1900, they were silent or had a person down in the front of the movie theatre playing a piano or organ. Slowly, not without resistance even, music was added- the idea developed that music could reinforce and underline and display emotions and themes the movie director was trying to project. Music actually could enhance and improve the story being told. The first movie talkie, i.e. with sound, was The Jazz Singer in 1927, about jazz singer Al Jolson.
How can a composer give you an idea of emotions in music? We know it is done in classical and popular music. Composers have many choices: fast or slow- loud or soft- different instruments and different notes in different harmonies. Think of the difference in sound between a violin and a trumpet? The trumpet in the past was used to announce royalty or to sound hunting or battle calls. We associate the violin with more sentimental melodies or tunes. In the Middle Ages musicians in
In the 1920s and 30s, composers for film perfected the art of movie music. Movies had become popular in
They would watch the film and spot it- notice the sections where
music was needed. They could then mark the frames on the film (since each length of film had a certain amount of photo frames in which the movement changes ever so slowly) and the composer would have to determine how long the segment of music should last- i.e. how many frames would be in the section. Korngold, originally a classical composer from
Movie music will usually be in the background, underlining moods or characters as it always did in opera, I want to take a few different types of movies- - the horror, the love or romance, the western, the adventure, to illustrate how this can work.
Take the theme from the main title- the two lines one coming down, the one beneath coming up If it were written in the major, it would be so much more cheerful. But in the minor as it is: What are the feelings that you get? I would say a certain foreboding, unease, spooky, disconcerting, nightmarish feeling. This theme is played with the movies main title where the credits and the name of the movie are given- at the beginning a sort of introduction to set the mood of the movie.What word has this definition?: a feeling of dizziness..a swimming in the head , a state in which all things seem to be engulfed in a whirlpool of terror,,,its vertigo.
This music shows indecisiveness, its unnerving- dissonance- it does not sound harmonious in the movie- there are sudden louds and softs- jarring chords- everything to throw you off balance- to make you dizzy, to give you vertigo. Also, there is no hummable melody that we could sing. It has everything to do with the story that is about to unfold before you. Our hero is indeed in a nightmare.
This theme is telling us about the story that will follow. It is preparing us. We do not have time to watch the whole movie. but I can tell you that this movie, with score composed by Bernard Herrman, is about a man who suffers from fear of heights- vertigo! It is an offering from famed Director, Albert Hitchcock about mental illness and murderous designs- a man duped into witnessing two murders, one is of the woman he loves.
Do you like that feeling of your hair standing up on the back of your neck- as long as its only a movie. The horror, or scary genre tends to keep you alert and on your toes. You are aware that something bad is about to happen. Please, you are saying, let it happen to somebody else! Since we are sitting here , comfortable, watching, - I guess it will happen to some one else!
In music, dissonance throws you off balance- the notes clash- they do not blend- the most perfect example is another movie by the very same composer- Bernard Herrman.
It is the quality of dream that I love in "Vertigo"!
-Tell me what is happening as this music occurs? It involves a certain creepy motel, and a psychotic motel keeper who could not let go of his mother even after she was dead!- in fact, he keeps her stuffed- in her original skin like a stuffed animal- upstairs in the creepy mansion where he lives (based on the actions of a real person- the charming serial killer, Ed Gein)..
In the famous scene with the dissonant music, film actor, Tony Perkins is attacking and stabbing the innocent heroine in the shower- a scene which forever afterwards makes one have second thought every time one takes a shower. This bit of music consists of 2 notes played right next to one another (illustrating the knife strokes). Any time you do that you get a grating, horrible, scary sound. It is like the sound of a fingernail scraping across a black board! Like a scream!! Such notes are meant to scare you- not make you calm or happy.
There is a feature on Bernard Herrman in the updated dvd of Vertigo.
Another favorite bit of horror music of mine is the music by Hans Zimmers to the movie The Ring: the story goes that if you rent this particular video you will die- as you watch it a girl climbs out of a well and through the tv screen to get you!, the girl, after all, was abused herslf and murdered by being pushed down into the well! Here there are no words to the tunes- and you cant call them tunes. The just give you that uneasy feeling- something very bad is going to happen. There are wonderful images- a burning tree, the horse, the ladder, the well. Zimmer is a great living film composer- his music to "Thin Red Line" is also breathtaking.
For a complete contrast to the horror genre: Umbrellas of
What mood does this put you in? It reminds me of love and romance- how to say it? A sweet, a melting feeling? The music suggests something wistful, sort of happy- certainly not frightening but not joyous either. The notes are easy to sing or hum- the rhythm is danceable, swaying, the instruments in the background are often violins or flutes, as they often are, playing softly. Is the love story going to be a happy one or a sad one?
We have a hero who , by the end of the movie, has a beautiful wife and child, even tho his first love was also beautiful but she could not wait for him to return from the war.
This whole film is sung- like an opera- "durchcomponiert"- unusual. The title of the main song is I will wait for you - the main point of which is- she doesnt wait for him!!- the musical theme brings to mind love, yes, but lost love, love lost, and how, most importantly- life goes on anyway. Witness the end of this very sweet, wistful movie. The woman the hero first loved- Catherine Deneuve, cannot wait. She marries another. Once he returns form the war, he has marries a perfectly wonderful other lady- i.e. life goes on happily! You get to love again- there is a second chance.
The music director? Michel Legrand- one of the best film composers. In The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, brings us to understand the meaning of the music by the words that it is put to- the theme appears at least 6 times to such words as: I think only of you/ I know that you will wait for me/I will love you to the end of my life/ Why is absence so heavy to bear-. One must admit there is some sadness in this music, but as well a certain lightness, an assuring quality- everything is going to be OK. Music expressing love will be scored for the lighter instruments- flutes, violins, guitars, not drums and trumpets. It will be slower music.
For another, more recent movie with music showing the same theme, Celine Dion is singing a theme by James Horner with the same message as in Umbrellas of Cherbourg - again lost love! Listening to this theme as it accompanies Leonardo de Caprio and Kate Winslet? posed on the prow of the on surging ship like figure heads is the definition of magnificence. Even though her lover died in the ship wreck- she will live and think of him. The old woman at the end of the film as she reminisces?- it's a high point! My heart will go on from Titanic-1997. Just go to the credit section at the end of the DVD- Ms. Dion sings the whole song!
The traditional western music- Magnificent 7 -1960 is almost clichéd by now; its been done so many times). The composer, Elmer Bernstein admits to a strong influence by the famed classical American composer, Aaron Copland. With the rhythm, Bernsteins theme imitates galloping of horses- it suggests action, movement- the music is percussive, uses cymbals and drums fast, loud and forward moving. Also noteworthy: the Good, Bad and Ugly Europeans were not to be beaten at this kind of film- for later comes the so called spaghetti western- shot in the deserts of Sicily- famed Director, Sergio Leones The Good the Bad and the Ugly-1966, the composer uses new instruments- in this case the amplified soprano flute, sounding like a whistle ans ingenious and imaginative- touch!- Sergio Leone and composer Ennio Morricone wanted a fresh approach- not the same old Magnificent 7 stuff. The Good the Bad and the Ugly dvd has a nice feature on Morricone under features.
In an earlier film Seahawk- of 1940, you hear how the music underlines the themes. it has a breadth- a sweep- is it flying? The wind? The waves? The sweep of the ocean seas? Yes, the upwards movement of the flutes even expresses sea wave spray. The composer, Erich Korngold (easily the greatest film composer) evokes the sea and also our hero, swashbuckling and dashing Francis Drake, who will lead the British navy to victory over the Spanish Armada for Queen Elizabeth. The hero is played by movie idol, Errol Flynn- one of
Maurice Jarres music to Lawrence of Arabia does the same thing, achieves the same epic feel of the emptiness of space- although this space is the desert not the empty space of the universe. It is the sweep, the distance of the desert landscape thats being represented by large sweeps and billowing forms of music- as in the Seahawk where the vast, ocean sea is represented.
For a newer version of the heroic mode- one with different, up to date technology ( the sword play will be with light swords in a far away universe) , we have a Science Fiction movie of 1977 - Star Wars- with John Williams as the composer. His main theme gives a sense of epic adventure, the trumpeting fanfare - royalty- Princess Leia, and Jeddi knights- the march of armies into battle . The similarity to Sea Hawk is great. There is a full orchestra- loud- trumpets, drums-its military. Williams has written music for many recent hit movies.
MOVIE HIT TUNES
The movie hit tunes e.g. You must remember this from Casablanca- 1942.The hit song became more and more a signature, a memorable movie high point, and there was more and more money to be made on albums and performance as the record industry grew. The growth of the hit song from movies had to do with such technical advances as the radio, the record player, any of you young folks heard of that?
Now you can download any tune to your ipod, such as this one of the most well known movie hits, Somewhere over the rainbow. This was written by one of the best pop tune composers- Harold Arlen, this for the 1939 Movie The Wizard of Oz. Arlen, who wrote many other pop standards was the son of a Jewish cantor, and, like the famous composer George Gershwin, combined elements of jazz, Jewish prayer music, Negro spirituals and classical music into many hit tunes.
The genesis of Somewhere over the rainbow is a wonderful story, I think. Arlen recounts: We had finished most of the songs, all of the songs, except for one for Judy (Judy Garland) in
It needed Mr. Harburgs lyrics-and Harburg says of it: you had an arid, colorless place (
The famous song was originally cut from the movie!!! They thought the song slowed the movie down and that it was undignified for a star to be singing in a barnyard!! The executive- Louis Meyer had to be convinced to let it back in. Good sense prevailed and the song was restored.
Johnny Mercer must be mentioned- his poetry- "Moon River" from "Breakfast at Tiffany's".
Fragments: I would like to mention music in a couple of other genres of movies- specialized types:
On Golden Pond, - autumnal, autumn of our lives utmost of simplicity Capote- wide open spaces- Nebraska- read the opening bit by Capote abt. Nebraska- again the American feel-Copland influence .
A brilliant evocation of wistful nostalgia is captured in the music to Cinema Paradiso and again- kudos to always great Ennio Morricone....movie about Glenn Gould " 32 Short Pieces on Glenn Gould" ; Elmer Bernstein a greater composer than Leonard? no- BUT- His score to "To Kill a Mockingbird" brings back all small town
MUSIC FOR A COMPANY, LOGO MUSIC, ADVERTISING
Even the logo theme for a company can be entrancing and enticing and magical- play Dreamworks theme under kid sitting on a edge of the moon as he fishes. This music helps establish a particular studio or group of makers- witness the following intro to Steven Spielbergs Company- Dreamworks.
It is impossible to imagine a movie without music! (Actually there are some:- No Country for Old Men (where the lack of music serves to heighten the empty, desolate, menacing feel of the movie) or City Lights (a joke- before sound came to the movies).
Comments: Hi Dan- maybe you'll get a kick out of this- maybe not- my usual- "different" take- Tom Hall tole me yr pose makes it all worth while- I hope so.
What's yr point of view?
This letter was sent to the AARP magazine- which had letters congratulating Dylan on his b day from folks like Bono, Maya Angelou, Tom Brokaw, etc. Also it refers to the dvd- which I thoroughly enjoyed. Only good commenter in AARP was Judy Collins'.
A letter like this cannot be printed, by AARP, I would guess, because of its length and its negativity- it would ruin that pablumic, boosteristic format of theirs- which fails to address the real issues of we seniors (us seniors). Too long- too in depth.
I am a member of AARP for what good it does me- (I am already well taken care of)..but mostly I pick up the magazine at dentists' or physical rehab offices and see it the same way I saw the magazines Readers Digest (what ever happened to RD) and Arizona Highways in my youth- 40's, 50's.
The AARP congratz to Bob Dylan fall into the same category- no negativity- not the slightest. O yeh he's an outlaw- an outlaw that has stuck to the same musical format- a droning country and western - since the Newport Folk Festival- back in the 60's? They were right to boo him then, it turns out.
Now- I myself feel inspired by Dylan- the Dylan of black and white- "Blowing in the Wind" lyrics and the great poetry of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" AND it's pehenomenal accompanying (and seminal) video.
We realize that this one hit wonder- at least in terms of Beatles style hits-with - "Blowin in the Wind" really meant it when he said "the answer is blowing in the wind". He had not one clue- whilst others of us of that generation have gone on to fight the power and do lots of good- he has not contributed like the Beatles and will not be played in elevators. Yes he is a performer and has continued to put out excellently mediocre music- a Nina Simone- he is not!
And I must confess, I have not had the time to study Bob's lyrics since the early days. "Tangled up in blue" was a nice phrase. I hope there are others.
His poetry- that might be the high point- and it's fairly incomprehensible. His writings were pretty good in "Tarantula"- the "Chronicles" seems to reflect a burnt out case. On a recent DVD on Bob- "Bob Dylan- The Narrative Continues"- one of the features is an interview he gave the press in Rome I believe- early 200's - that shows him as his usual unhelpful, arrogant and elusive self. The questions were really poor also. One could have been, "Why aren't you more political?"
Please- such singers as Judy Collins and Joan Baez- are not evasive. Bob answers one questioner who asked why the band dresses the way they do that "That's the way we dress where we come from." Where?- 1850's Pennsylvania Amish country?
I'm sorry- my generation (I'm 70) was known for doing "in depth". Please reflect that- this to AARP- not Amazon, please? if only a smidgeon? The AARP establishment birthday wishes from various "celebs" reveals them to b as shallow as is Bob.
Out generation stood for something, thank you. The talking heads on this dvd are fabulous- just, in my opinion, they never touch on the negative- mention the word "genius" too much, and are way too boosteristic. I know they have careers as music writers to defend- but how about some reality?
I think Bob thinks he is being authentic, to a degree, by being rude and evasive- and that is not necessary. He is "better than that". But if he doesn't even realize how great he was in the sixties and what he owes to a Pete Seeger- it's a shame! It's as if he had a chance to be as great as a John Lennon in the 60's- and he blew it!
Pick up the pace, Bobby
now that i have browsed dan's very good book- a different response:
For me, what with Epstein's knowledge of music and, especially, poetry, this bio of Bob Dylan- The Ballad of Bob Dylan, will be definitive.
Epstein neatly chronicles BD's life with four concerts as guideposts.
I had accepted the media myths created for BD (Dylan) - that he is prickly, uncooperative, but the iconic hero of the 60's. Turns out he is hardworking and generous. While he may not been have been forthcoming or political enough- it's clear that while BD reflected the 60's, he did not comment upon it. He has stubbornly refused to be pigeonholed as other than a hard working song and dance man, following in the footsteps of a Johnny Cash.
So what if he has not had the edge of a Gil Scott Heron or directness of a John Lennon- his lyrics clearly support the humanity of a generation trying to change things for the better...he is an artist that represents my generation well.- like him, we should not tolerate fools gladly. It's clear enough where his sympathies lie.
How many artists really speak honestly, anyhow? Hopefully that will change.
To me, "the answer my friends/ is mass movement for social change; the answer is mass movement for social change"- but how much poetic ring does that have?
notes to dan: I want to go back and do more than browse- especially on the poetry.
I did not see where BD has suffered "enormous heat" for his political views.
Also- yr, bit at the beginning w the doppleganger bob dylan- i have to go back now and read more carefully.
upon watching the Scorcese documentary on Dylan- "No Direction Home"- Bob is not evasive talking to Martin- I realize my initial negative reaction (see above letter and refutation by Dan) was juvenile and foolish. The harmonic changes alone draw you into Bob's music- and THEN- then there are the lyrics. For a protestor like myself? "Masters of War" is as great a protest song as you could like. Add to that Medgar Evers, song on Oxford, etc. etc.etc. As Dave van Ronk says, "Even if he didn't think of himself as a protest singer, he was a protest singer."
re the war masters: "I hope that you'll die/ and I hope it comes soon/ I'll stand on your grave and make sure that you're dead!"
"Here's to those that come w the dust and are gone w the wind"- was that enough for poetry? or "How does it feel- to be all alone- no direction home, like a rolling stone?"- right up there w the stones "All of the things that you used to do- if they're done now, well they're done by you!" and of course the sentence that is BD's mantra-"He not busy being born is busy dyin'!"
Where Bob yells "Didn't you? and How does it feel", he seems to be to BE Whitman's "barbaric yawp."
A great documentary on Phil Ochs- "There but for Fortune" has just been released (2011), and one could be tempted to say, Phil suffered at Bobby's hands. But didn't Bob join Phil at the tribute concert to Victor Jara- Chilean folk singer shot in the back by Pinochet's thugs in Chile?
In a press conference in San Francisco- Bob tells Martin S, or whomever is the interviewer in this documentary: "I had no answers to these question- as do not other performers"- which was total bull sh t!. Yes the questions were stupid- but, can we blame him for being a jerk? He says- "they call me a 'spokesman, a conscience'- I can't relate to it. I'm playing to people every night" (as if that allows him to be impolite and to b not thoughtful - a part of me says- good for him- another part says- this is an asshole.
But what is refreshing to me is to see him standing up to the media, when so many worship media. But he responds to media if it is powerful enough- e g Martin Scorcese.
I note the similarity between BD's "When the ship comes in" and B recht and Weill's "Pirate Jenny's Song" in "3 Penny Opera".
Liam Clancy tells Bob: "Remember Bob- no fear, no envy, no meanness."
re the power in Bob's songs- springs from a certain repetition- where he will add chorus onto chorus- phrase onto phrase-over and over w enticing poetry lines -then come down w a hammer of a change of harmony- chords- what ever!
I always wanted "What are you doing for the rest of your life" as a theme song for me and Louise? Then she divorced me and died! At this age- 70-to write like Legrand as in "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" or like Johnny Mercer's "Moon River" or the "Molly Mcguires Theme"- by Henry Mancini- to write poems like Dorothy Parker's- Carl Sandbug's!